The Useless “Organizationalism” of the American Jewish Community

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


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Charles Jacobs of Americans for Peace and Tolerance has a very timely American Thinker column about the impotence of American Jews in the face of Kerry’s assault on Israel.

Cities with large Jewish populations are represented by Jewish Federations that raise and distribute funds mostly for the non-controversial basics of Jewish communal life listed above.  Under most Federations, and normally funded by them, are Jewish Community Relations Councils (CRCs) that function as the Jewish community’s outreach arm to politicians, other ethnic and religious organizations, and now “gender-identity” groups.  The Federations and CRCs are accepted — both by most Jews and by the wider public — as more or less the official representatives of the Jewish community.

In terms of Jewish communal governance, one could say that the Federations are the Jews’ “Health and Human Services Departments” (HHS) and the CRCs are our local diplomatic services.  The classic Jewish “Defense Department” — comprised of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — was historically tasked to deal with familiar enemies: Christian anti-Semites, Nazis, neo-Nazis, and emerging racist anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

At this critical juncture, both ADL and AJC chose not to alter their missions and foci; they declined to become either the chief strategists or the prime responders to these new threats.  The ADL came to define itself more and more as a universalist human rights group, fighting against all bias — and even general human misconduct.  (ADL now campaigns against “Islamophobia,” and it spends significant Jewish resources against school bullying.) Neither did the AJC — which clung to its roles in “Jewish diplomacy” and international relations — come onto the campuses or take on the media in any concerted manner.

To fill the gap, smaller, specialized and more grassroots groups (with budgets of $2 million to 5 million, as opposed to ADL/AJC budgets of $35 million to $60 million) arose — CAMERA (founded in 1982) to deal with media bias; Stand With Us, The David Project and Hasbara Fellows (all founded in 2001-02) to fight for Israel on the campuses and sometimes to take on the anti-Israelism of liberal churches.

The entire article is worth reading, but historically speaking, American Jewish organizations have always been useless. It’s not as if they suddenly became useless just now.

In the three major crises confronting the Jewish community, the Holocaust, Soviet Jewry and Israel, the organizations malfunctioned badly.

Jewish groups initially took on Nazism and then backed away from the issue of Jewish refugees. They felt safe within the liberal consensus that Nazism itself was bad, but were hesitant to confront FDR’s hostility to the question of Jewish refugees who died in large numbers because they weren’t able to escape Nazi territory.

The organizations performed well when it came to sending food aid after the war, but they couldn’t and wouldn’t take on FDR and the liberal consensus. Not even when millions of lives were at stake.

The organizations had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the cause of Soviet Jewry. The momentum came from grass roots groups and Orthodox Jews who were outside the establishment consensus. In what had been and would go on being a common theme, non-Jewish politicians were more willing to participate in the struggle than establishment groups.

Finally the establishment groups were entirely willing to support Israel in non-controversial ways, they just couldn’t be counted on to take a controversial stand. Not for long at any rate.

Nothing has really changed in that regard except that the anti-Israel left has made much deeper inroads in what’s left of the Jewish community and now controls many of the Federations which are general purpose social service agencies and leftist advocacy lobbies funded with money from Jewish donors.

As I wrote about AIPAC recently,

AIPAC doesn’t produce results. Like the ADL, it’s a machine for generating donations and political speeches. The less AIPAC stands for, the more it can perpetuate the myth of its influence by attracting more politicians to attend and praise its leadership in return for AIPAC dubbing them pro-Israel.  It’s a lobbyist love fest that isn’t unique to AIPAC, but AIPAC is unique in the gap between its function and its power.

The AIPAC influence so often written about in the Israelphobesphere consists of little more than donations from members traded for speeches by politicians.

That’s unfortunately the case across the Jewish communal spectrum. (Though it’s not just limited to Jews.)

It’s thoroughly unsurprising that the same gang would be unwilling to take on Islamic anti-semitism or left-wing anti-semitism. These groups can take stands, but they prefer to do them where it’s safe within the liberal consensus.

Outside that consensus they feel alone and afraid. You can see it happen when Abe Foxman takes a stand on an issue outside the liberal consensus, gets shouted at and then rushes back within safe liberal lines.

American Jews in their time created a great many organizations, most of which have no function except to give out grants to other organizations and by the time the money has been sifted, some percentage of it will go to program expenses for programs that mainly benefit whatever urban residents are savvy enough to take advantage of them.

The ruling regime of organizations have very little to do with the actual needs of the Jewish community in the United States or the Jews as a people.

  • A Z

    Do you hate these Jewish organizations Mr Greenfield?

    Telling the truth about them is the same as damning them.

    • A Z

      My 1st statement was an attempt at humor. But some people might be asking that question. People who do not want to be questioned.

      My second statement was a true statement.

      • A Z

        Like I said my 1st statement was an attempt at humor.

        Mr. Greenfield is just turning on the lights. Good people need not fear.

    • Alyssa Black

      I used to do a lot of fundraising for UJA (Federation) but when I found out the HUGE salaries being paid to the leaders–Foxman $700,000., Palm Beach Federation $420k in 2008 I figured they don’t need my money. If these organizations aren’t facing the real problems who needs them? If the truth damns them then so be it. Now I give to Pam Geller and Horowitz, Jews LEADING not appeasing.

  • Habbgun

    If you want to judge whether an organizational structure will work measure it against the typical Jewish org.An umbrella organization with an ambiguous mandate constantly bragging that it is expanding its mandate (what mandate did it originally have no one knows) and there are no standards for performance and no clear mechanism how priorities and funding are decided. Just the same names and the same tired “success”. You will never see a tightly run Jewish organization. It is almost as if the purpose isn’t to accomplish but to simply be.

    • TL2014

      Very well put Habbgun! Thank you for this eloquent formulation!

  • Ranbir

    Well Daniel it’s hardly unique is it? I mean Brigitte Gabriel charges $2000 for personal meeting with dinenr ticket prices not much less. And why does Frontpage magazine and individuals such as you turn a blind eye when Hindus are victims of jihad? Inconvenient facts? A bit like India being the only country where Jews flourshed for 2000 years without being persecuted.