America’s Failed Jewish Leadership
The Jewish community deserves better.
Reprinted from the Algemeiner.
On Tuesday, December 10, 2019, in a premeditated attack, two shooters opened fire inside a kosher deli in Jersey City, New Jersey and murdered four people. The killers included a former member of a notoriously antisemitic group and, reportedly, a follower of Louis Farrakhan.
It’s becoming obvious to most Jews that we are living in a state of siege. Practically every Jewish institution in America now needs significant security. College campuses have become hostile territory for Jewish students. Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Jersey City, beaten on the streets of Brooklyn, bullied and harassed in the universities, defamed by The New York Times and CNN, and now maligned in the US Congress.
There are many reasons for the current situation. Many are not within our control, but one thing truly ought to be: Jewish leadership.
The abolitionist leader Fredrick Douglass understood the consequences of failed leadership. He wrote: “Find out what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact … measure of the injustice and wrong … which will be imposed upon them.”
It’s hard to ignore the simple fact that Jewish leaders have failed to stop or even slow down the accelerating epidemic of Jew-hatred in America. Good intentions and doing their “best” is not good enough. It’s irrational to continue with the current policies and leaders and expect different results.
Part of the reason for their failure is that many mainstream Jewish leaders, with a few exceptions, most significantly Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), have failed to fully understand the new threats we face. Like failed generals fighting the last war, they focused on Nazis and the political right — and ignored the changed battlefield for as long as they could. They deliberately, out of political consideration, minimized the assaults coming from “progressives” and Islamists.
Recently, there has been some grudging acknowledgement of the not-so-new dangers, but there is little reason to hope that our leaders will significantly shift their focus and reallocate resources to deal with these politically inconvenient threats.
Many mainstream Jewish leaders seem ideologically incapable of internalizing the Left’s betrayal of the Jews. They refuse to acknowledge the political and social consequences of the mass influx of Muslim immigrants — who have grown up steeped in anti-democratic and antisemitic beliefs — into Western societies. They do so even when they know that this influx threatens to force the Jews out of Europe. They fail to understand how promoting tolerance of the intolerant may be lethal.
Mainstream Jewish leaders have also tended to ignore the ugly ideological assaults on Jews and Israel by prominent African-American leaders — with the exception of Louis Farrakhan, who is too obviously and publicly toxic to disregard — assaults which have led to predictable escalating physical attacks on Jews by young blacks. Only now, when it is no longer possible to ignore these repeated brutal attacks on New York Jews, have groups like the Anti-Defamation League begun to stir.
The deteriorating Jewish condition in America must be addressed immediately as an existential threat and the single most important priority for our community. We are under siege; we are in a state of emergency.
To be clear: we are referring to establishment national Jewish organizations, not to the many brave and dedicated smaller Jewish groups who fight BDS on campus, and anti-Israel bias in the media, K-12 curricula, and liberal churches. Indeed, most of these start-up groups were formed as a direct result of the decades-long failure of the ADL, the Federations, and the JCRCs to fight what is now recognized as “the new antisemitism.”
The Jewish community cannot prevail against these multiple and mounting assaults without strong national leadership.
There is a need for an honest self-assessment by Jewish leaders. They need to understand and recognize their responsibility for the failures noted below:
- Failing to mobilize and prioritize communal resources to protect the community both from physical and ideological assaults;
- Ignoring the fast-growing Jew-hatred promoted by “progressives” in our schools, our media, and politics;
- Remaining silent in the face of the genocidal teachings of Islamists in mosques and Islamic community centers;
- Refusing to deal forthrightly with the explosion of Jew-hatred by certain groups within the African American community, especially those in leadership positions in Congress and academia;
- Ignoring the failure of Jewish education that has resulted in the formation of antisemitic and anti-Israel Jewish organizations, cult-like groups preying on naïve, vulnerable, and ill-informed Jewish youth, by offering them secular identities and virtue signaling platforms as “Social Justice Warriors”;
- Failing abysmally to condemn Jews who are clearly trying to undermine Israel;
- Failing to effectively address Jew-hatred from “liberal” mainline Protestant churches;
- Mostly ignoring the hostile environment for Jews on college campuses, and the growing hostility in K-12 education funded with billions of dollars by the antisemitic regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar;
- Suppressing, marginalizing, and even attacking dissenting voices within our own community;
- Abandoning their fiduciary responsibilities by compromising the needs of our community for the sake of progressive politics.
Sadly, the failure of establishment Jewish leadership is not a new story: during World War II, many American Jewish leaders were cowards — more concerned with a potential backlash of antisemitism in America than with the fate of their fellow Jews in Europe. Today, still cowering, they fear exclusion from the progressive community. Then, they abandoned the Jews of Europe; now the Jews of Brooklyn, America, and Israel.
The biggest Jewish defense agency, the ADL, is the biggest failure. Their mission has been universalized: it changed from fighting antisemitism to fighting “all forms of hate with the same vigor and passion,” as if the Jewish community has the resources to do that, as if the community is secure and protected.
In too many instances, the ADL has failed to protect Jews. They seem more dedicated to protecting politically correct progressive causes and leaders. They are conflicted when Jew-hatred comes from progressive ideologues like themselves or certain “protected” minorities. The ADL has become a fraud.
The Jewish community deserves better. We need strong, proud and courageous Jewish leaders who are not ideologically conflicted or morally confused, and who are unafraid to fight courageously. ADL’s leadership must be replaced.
Today, we are calling on establishment Jewish leaders, including Federation and JCRC leaders as well as rabbis to examine their failure to effectively respond to the hostility towards Jews in America. Then, consistent with the highest Jewish values, they should seek forgiveness and resign.
Only with proud, brave, and competent leadership, can we hope for a secure Jewish future.
Avi Goldwasser is the co-founder of Americans for Peace and Tolerance and The David Project. He is the executive producers of several documentaries including Hate Spaces, The J Street Challenge, and The Forgotten Refugees.