Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I want to share with you some troubling aspects of this Iran deal. In a twist, these don’t actually have to do with the deal itself, but with some of the reactions and ramifications I have been seeing from my perch at a Jewish Federation.
1) There is increasing vitriol in our discourse, and a lack of respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints. In response to the approach we have taken (which I think is smart and strategic…more below), here are some of the epithets shared with me:
• Dirty Traitor
• Shame on you (several times)
• You are worse than the enemies of the Jewish people
• You are responsible (in part) for the deaths of 4000 Americans in the Iraq war
• You are spineless
• You are just as bad as those who stood by while Jews were marched into the Holocaust
These may be some of the extreme reactions – and you might be surprised which came from the left and the right – but the degree of judgment and insult characterizing many responses has been frightening. I recognize that a family fights and bickers, but this degree of discord makes me nervous about finding common ground for a collective future.
2) This is a no-win situation (and those who know me know I hate those…). In two ways. The first – we, the Jewish Federation, will be blamed by many no matter what kind of statement we make or actions we take. The second – I don’t see how we, as a community, end this situation in a stronger place than before it started.
3) I fear that this battle, as with many elements of Jewish life, is being fought on the margins. It’s not the vast majority of Jews who are engaged and invested in this issue; it’s the minority. And we just like to project our views and issues onto others, often loudly. My bigger concern, in a way, is for the majority in the middle who often don’t know where they stand, don’t know why they should care, and when they see tension…tune out. That’s the biggest issue, on many fronts, our community faces.
4) Not only is this issue highlighting fault lines in the American Jewish community, it is also highlighting the disconnect and gap between perceptions and understandings among much of American Jewry and within Israel. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu and many Israelis misread the commitment and mindset of the Jewish community in America, and it almost goes without saying – though it needs to be said – that many, if not most, Jews in America have no idea what life and perceptions are in Israel. This rift in the family is something we need to take more seriously and address.
5) Many partisans just want to project their view onto others without regard to who those others are, their missions or objectives, or whether they should even be taking a stance. We’ve gotten many communications in essence lobbying the Jewish Federation to take a stand on one side or the other without any consideration of what the role of the Jewish Federation is or should be; we are just one more endorsement to line up in a for or against column – and that’s disheartening.
6) A related point to #5 and the issues I touched on last week – while organizations need to multitask to be effective, often people can’t or don’t want to. So, for those who care about this Iran issue, that’s all they want to focus on with us as well. Sometimes it makes it hard to keep our eyes on the prize, when the prize for so many differs.
7) There have been a number of articles and essays arguing that Federations should remain neutral, because a) it isn’t their place to weigh in on political issues, b) there is no consensus on this issue, or c) they are primarily philanthropic organizations and can’t risk alienating donors. Bull. Or rather, that’s a dated view of what Federations are. You’ve seen me write lots about how Federations need to be community leaders and make choices about priorities, which will often and necessarily mean making distinctions or disagreeing with some people or groups. While that may not mean taking a specific stand in this case, unless Federations come to terms with this shift in requirements and value proposition, many will continue to dwindle into irrelevance.
8) There is a false/bogus notion of balance floating around out there. If you have left, you have to have right…if AIPAC, you need J Street – and if you don’t offer this simple (and over-simplistic) dichotomy, then you are biased and automatically on the other side (and subject to the attacks and complaints indicated above). Balance is sharing a wide variety of viewpoints and examining multiple sides of an issue. Balance should be in accord with critical review and questioning; it should not be a simple tally of ideological check-boxes – and if there is a flaw or failing in an argument or approach, there should be no call for defending or sidestepping that claim just for the sake of “balance”. (And, as an aside, for those who think I was unfair in my previous criticism of J Street…I encourage you to read what I wrote again with this in mind.)
Needless to say, the thoughts and commentary above are my own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey. I do have some influence there, however, and am not bashful in sharing. I am also quite keen to engage in debate and argumentation – so if you disagree or see things differently…please share.
I am also proud of how our Federation has handled this issue. We have taken a lead role in engaging and educating about the considerations surrounding this Iran deal, and will be doing more – including a conference call with The Israel Project, a webcast with President Obama (thanks to our national partners), and issuing a further statement soon from our leadership. As many have started discussing lately, and I allude to above, this is one incident in time; we need to keep our focus on what comes next and what we need to accomplish in the future.
With that – a short reading list:
• Best analysis out there: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/there-is-a-path-to-a-better-deal-with-iran
• You may not agree, but an important voice – and part of our ongoing series of education efforts: http://njjewishnews.com/article/28082/kurtzer-former-envoy-endorses-iran-deal#.VdW7l6RRHIU
• I still think our statement is on point, but here is a different perspective: http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/to_those_who_hear_anti_semitism_when_it_is_not_there
• Good read, if you can get past the firewall: http://www.wsj.com/articles/congress-can-rewrite-the-iran-deal-1439419154
• Wasn’t there Joe the plumber?: http://www.jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/item/imagine_the_following_headline_340_plumbers_urge_congress_to_disapprove_ira
• An interesting guy, no matter your politics: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/192931/bernie-sanders-story
• And an important piece: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/A-Dose-of-Nuance-What-if-we-stopped-hasbara-412001
The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey