Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: J Street

 

Presbyterian report threatens coalition

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs did not mince words. In a letter dated March 15 and addressed to its board and member agencies, the group wrote: “The Jewish community finds itself at a crossroad in our relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

At issue is a report from the church’s Middle East Study Committee. Entitled “Breaking Down the Walls,” the 172-page document — which will be presented at the group’s 219th General Assembly in July — is “an egregious diatribe against Israel,” said Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of North Jersey and head of the regional Community Relations Council.

Kurland and Allyson Gall, New Jersey area director of the American Jewish Committee, spoke with The Jewish Standard on Tuesday to relay their concerns.

This is not the first time the Protestant denomination — with some 10,000 congregations and 2 million to 3 million members — has put forward positions critical of Israel.

But, said Gall, “this is the worst ever,” because rather than just voicing specific concerns or proposals advocating boycotts or divestment, “it’s much more insidious; it’s about delegitimizing Israel as a state.”

In the past, she said, groups such as AJCommittee and JCPA mobilized their local offices to talk to Presbyterian delegates before they went to their biennial conventions, letting them know how their Jewish neighbors felt about anti-Israel proposals. And, in the past, such efforts were generally successful.

This time, however, may be different.

“Regretfully, there is a possibility it will pass,” said Gall, pointing out that while there are certainly a small number of delegates who will be committed to its passage, most — “who will also be considering tons of other stuff” — may simply not understand the implications of the issue and simply let it go through.

In addition, she pointed out, this year’s agenda also contains a report on gay rights, something likely to garner much more attention.

“We as Jews forget that it’s not the most important thing to the average church member,” she said.

Nevertheless, said Kurland, should the measure pass, “We’re going to have to step back and reassess” relations with the Presbyterian Church. Citing coalitions in which Jews and Presbyterians work together on issues such as Darfur and immigration reform, she said that, conceivably, such efforts might not be able to continue.

“The proposal can’t be fixed,” said Gall. “In our estimation, it can’t be tweaked. All the blame for everything is on Israel,” she added, noting that the document refers continually to “occupation, occupation, occupation, and land taken away from the Palestinians.”

“It’s a rewriting of the story,” said Kurland. “The whole piece is a horrific attack against Israel, making use of pieces of text taken completely out of context.”

These include scriptural passages, she said. The March JCPA letter gives examples of “a problematic theology” in the report that negates Jewish claims to the land while simultaneously “holding the modern State of Israel to biblical standards of justice,” standards that are not applied to other countries.

Kurland also pointed out that despite the Presbyterians’ protestations, no mainstream American Jewish organizations were consulted during the preparation of the report. The committee indicated that it had spoken with Jewish Voices for Peace, described by JCPA as an anti-Israel group; B’Tselem, an Israeli group; and J Street.

J Street, however, said later that it was never consulted by the Presbyterian group and that it finds the report “troubling and unfair,” according to JCPA.

Additionally, the report holds “Israeli discrimination” responsible for the declining Christian population in the country, and, said Gall, “One of the authors of the historical analysis sections claims that United States aid to Israel violates domestic and international law.”

While Jews are clearly troubled by the report, they are not alone, said the AJCommittee director.

“It’s not all Presbyterians,” she said. “We’re not talking about demonizing the whole church. Some are very upset and are working to change it.”

To help in this effort, local community relations councils and regional AJCommittee offices are reaching out to their Presbyterian coalition partners, stressing the importance of countering the report, which, if accepted, would result in anti-Israel measures.

Kurland said there are 30 convention delegates from New Jersey.

“We have to try to speak with them and with other Presbyterian ministers who are our friends,” she said. “There are relationships that have been built over the years on the local level, where they don’t march in lockstep with the national body.” People on the local level “have to hear from their Jewish clergy counterparts that these relationships really mean something.”

“We also have to explain to our partners that maybe they haven’t quite understood how important Israel is to us, that it’s part of our identity as American Jews,” said Gall.

“We have a perfect right to try to educate our friends and neighbors” on the importance of Israel, she said. “We think we’ve done so much and we all get along, but we don’t talk about the things that are really important to us. Our neighbors don’t seem to understand that being Jewish is not just about going to synagogue on Saturday; it’s not just a religion.” While Jews may be reluctant to initiate such discussions, “other people need to know,” she said.

Should the report pass, said the two Jewish leaders, the Jewish community will “have to take a deep breath and step back,” though exactly how the repercussions will be felt will differ from town to town. They also agreed that Israel’s recent actions regarding the Gaza aid flotilla will “put a cloud on what we’re trying to do.”

“I’m sure it will have to be addressed,” said Gall. “Maybe we’ll wait a week to make calls.”

Nevertheless, said Kurland, pointing out that task-force meetings have already been held on the subject, action must be taken.

“What’s really troublesome is not only that this issue was visited a few years ago and we thought that things were addressed and rectified, but that this initiative is so egregiously anti-Israel that it can break up a coalition with the Presbyterians.” Coalition partners “must understand what’s at stake here; that we cannot be at the table with people who are working against the welfare and security of the State of Israel.”

 
 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Flotilla fallout becomes rallying cry for U.S. Jews

image
Baltimore Jews rally June 4 in support of Israel. Rebecca Gardner/Baltimore Zionist District

The last time American Jews took to the streets in significant numbers to make the case for Israel’s right to defend itself, during Israel’s war with Hamas in early 2009, rockets were raining down on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

This time it’s a public relations war rather than a military one that has sent American Jews into the streets warning that a campaign is under way to wipe Israel off the map.

In indignant statements to the media, in Op-Eds, and at rallies around the country, American Jews jumping to Israel’s defense are casting the fallout to last week’s flotilla incident — and the mounting opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza — as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Why did Israel even have to resort to blockade?” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote. “Because blockade is Israel’s fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself — forward and active defense.”

“If none of these is permissible, what’s left?” Krauthammer asked rhetorically. “Nothing,” he answered. “The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide.”

As with the Gaza war, and the Lebanon war of 2006, Israel’s defenders see in the global assault on Israel’s enforcement of the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza — a territory controlled by an organization committed to Israel’s destruction — nothing less than a threat to Israel’s existence.

“Once again, my friends, Israel is under siege,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, declared at a pro-Israel rally Sunday in Los Angeles opposite the local Israeli consulate.

Some 3,000 people showed up for the demonstration, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The international outcry against Israel is an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state, Israeli Consul Jacob Dayan warned the crowd.

“Enough of the campaign of lies spread by the defenders of terror,” Dayan said. “Those on the flotilla were not peace activists.”

The precipitating incident occurred May 31, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turks upon encountering violent resistance to their effort to board a ship in international waters that was part of a Gaza-bound flotilla bearing aid materials and pro-Palestinian activists.

The incident became a rallying cry for pro-Palestinian activists, who held rallies across the country and around the world protesting against Israel, including at some Jewish sites. In downtown Cleveland, some three dozen protesters stood outside the Jewish federation building last Friday chanting slogans and holding signs including “Stop Israel Pirates.” In Washington, activists flocked to the Israeli Embassy calling for it to be shut down.

Many Jewish groups said the worldwide reaction to the flotilla incident smacked of hypocrisy.

“Why did we not hear the same voices of condemnation raised as thousands of rockets poured down on Israel or on behalf of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas more than four years ago and held incommunicado ever since?” the main Jewish umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, asked in a statement.

The Jews countered with rallies of their own in communities across the country.

In Baltimore, several dozen demonstrators stood at a busy intersection in 90-degree heat waving Israeli flags and placards calling for the release of Shalit, an Israeli soldier, and blaming Turkey for the flotilla incident. In New York, demonstrators gathered across from the United Nations and at other rallies scattered around the metropolitan area. In Philadelphia, some 250 pro-Israel demonstrators gathered last Friday across the street from the Israeli consulate at a rally organized by the Zionist Organization of America, providing a counterpoint to the pro-Palestinian demonstration that had taken place three days earlier at the same site.

To be sure, American Jews have not been uniformly supportive of Israel’s actions on the high seas. Some American Jewish groups questioned the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the way the flotilla raid was conducted. J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Ameinu all issued statements critical of Israel’s Gaza policies.

“There wouldn’t have been a flotilla if Gazan children had enough food, had schools, and clean water to drink,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, the left-wing pro-Israel lobbying group, told JTA.

“This is not a hasbara problem,” he said, using the Israeli term for public relations. “For decades Israel and friends of Israel have complained about a hasbara problem. What they have is an occupation problem,” Ben-Ami said. “We can either complain about the way the world views Israel or change the way we behave.”

While some American Jews and many Israelis said they support the blockade of Gaza in principle but disagree with elements of its implementation and the way the Israeli navy handled the flotilla interception, that nuance was not readily apparent at the pro-Israel rallies across the nation. Rather, the message at the demonstrations was kept simple: We stand behind Israel.

One speaker at the L.A. rally, David Pine, West Coast regional director for Peace Now, tried to deviate from that message, saying, “Despite the way one individual military operation was handled, ultimately it will take a negotiated resolution that provides for a two-state solution.” He was drowned out by a chorus of boos. When the chairman of the local Jewish federation, Richard Sandler, tried to quiet the crowd, audience members continued to boo Pine, with one yelling out, “Traitor!”

In Philadelphia, Steve Feldman, director of the greater Philadelphia district of the ZOA, summed up the approach he expected of supporters of Israel.

“I would not be satisfied,” he said, “until every Jewish person in the Philadelphia area, every person of good conscience in the area, everybody who knows right from wrong in the area, will be out supporting Israel, because Israel is in the right.”

JTA

 
 

J Street’s McCarthyism

 

J Street making the case for ‘Yes’

 

Local rabbis sign on to new centrist pro-Israel group

Rabbis for Israel offers option between AIPAC and J Street

A new pro-Israel organization that aims to give rabbis a middle ground between AIPAC and J Street has the attention of several local rabbis.

Rabbis for Israel, launched last month by Rabbi Michael Boyden of Hod Hasharon, Israel, bills itself as a centrist group dedicated to a two-state solution with peace and security for Israel. More than 230 rabbis, including six from Northern New Jersey, have signed on to the group’s mission statement.

“I was amazed that so many leading rabbis from all streams and from all over the world, including North America, Israel, and Europe, should have chosen to identify with Rabbis for Israel in such a short space of time,” Boyden said in a statement. “The response shows the degree to which many Jewish leaders are thirsty for an advocacy group that represents the middle ground in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

Rabbi Jonathan Woll, of the Progressive Havura of Northern New Jersey in Glen Rock, met Boyden during a visit by the Israeli rabbi to Woll’s now-defunct Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn. When Woll heard of Boyden’s group, he quickly signed on because of its centrist position.

Woll had been an early supporter of J Street, which hailed itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, but he became disappointed with it.

“When we came to the flotilla incident,” and J Street’s swift condemnation of Israel, “my disappointment … really gave way to some kind of uncertainty in their position,” he said. “I do respect [J Street founder] Mr. [Jeremy] Ben-Ami. I think he’s a highly intelligent individual. His positions are not for the most part untenable.”

Who’s signed on?

Rabbi Bruce Block, Tenafly
Rabbi Neal Borovitz, Temple
Avodat Shalom, River Edge
Rabbi Ken Emert, Temple Beth
Rishon, Wyckoff
Rabbi Debra Hachen, Temple
Beth El of Northern Valley,
Closter
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner,
Temple Emanu-El, Closter
Rabbi Jonathan Woll, Progressive
Havura of Northern New Jersey,
Glen Rock

.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge echoed Woll’s disappointment with J Street, which, he said, wrongly equates equality with equity, assigning equal blame to Israel and the Palestinians.

“They’re looking at it to a certain degree through a colored lens that doesn’t let them see the reality of where the Middle East peace process has gone over the 33 years since [the late Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat came to Jerusalem,” he said.

Borovitz, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, didn’t shy away from criticizing AIPAC either.

“AIPAC has taken an unrealistic view of the Middle East peace process that is far too hardline for me on issues of the territories and settlements and defending what I think are indefensible actions,” he said. “Both of these very vocal pro-Israel lobbies — and I believe J Street is pro-Israel as well — have found themselves caught up in both American and Israeli partisan politics and are failing to represent a moderate centrist voice that is critically supportive of Israel.”

Disagreeing with specific Israeli policies or actions does not negate overall support of the Jewish state, said Temple Emanu-El of Closter’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, who recently returned from three and half weeks in Israel.

He pointed to the recent flap over Arizona’s immigration law. Just because he disagrees with the law does not mean that he will not visit Arizona or stop loving America, he said. Similarly, American Jews need to be able to equally express criticism of Israel without abandoning support of the Jewish state.

“We can be a liberal and love and support Israel and we can be a conservative and love and support Israel,” he said. “It should be something that is part of the core of every Jewish person — even those secular and non-Jewish people who can appreciate what Israel brings to the world.”

For the complete statement, go to www.rabbisforisrael.org

 
 

Why was J Street so scared of Soros?

image
George Soros, shown at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January, “never made any secret about his contributions to J Street,” his spokesman said. Courtesy World Economic Forum

WASHINGTON – George Soros has been a top funder in recent years of liberal political advocacy groups, and Jews have still been voting for Democrats at a 75 to 80 percent clip. J Street, meanwhile, has built relations with lawmakers, lined up support from liberal rabbis and communal leaders, and found itself on the White House invite list, even while issuing controversial criticisms of Israel and establishment Jewish groups on several occasions.

So why exactly did J Street and its director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, risk the organization’s reputation and undermine its credibility by misleading the world about the donations it received from the financier and philanthropist?

News Analysis

The question has some establishment Jewish leaders and Democratic politicians scratching their heads this week — and predicting that Ben-Ami’s deception would cause the group much greater damage than any association with Soros. It’s especially perplexing given J Street’s insistence that it wanted Soros’ money.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, when asked about J Street’s earlier denials about receiving funding from Soros.

Foxman noted that Soros and J Street share the same posture on Middle East peace: an aggressive U.S. role, including pressure on all sides and opposition to settlement building — not to mention an openness to talks with Hamas.

“It’s the most appropriate thing, it fits, it makes sense — there’s nothing wrong with it,” Foxman said of the relationship.

A senior staffer for a Democratic congressman who has accepted J Street’s endorsement agreed, saying that Soros’ support for J Street would not have been “a major factor” in deciding whether to accept the organization’s endorsement.

“People have to know first who George Soros is and, second, why it would be bad for a pro-Israel group — in some circles — to be associated with him,” the staffer said. “There are a lot of people like that in the Jewish macherocracy — but not in our district.”

The Washington Times revealed in a Sept. 17 story that Soros and his children had given J Street $245,000 in 2008. The lobby confirmed the amount and said the Soros family since then had contributed another $500,000 — 7 percent of the $11 million J Street says it has received in donations since its launch.

Ben-Ami and spokesmen for Soros said the feint arose from the controversy that was sparked in 2006 when it was revealed — by JTA and other agencies — that Soros was a likely funder for the then-unnamed lobby Ben-Ami hoped to establish.

“It was his view that the attacks against him from certain parts of the community would undercut support for us,” Ben-Ami said. “He was concerned that his involvement would be used by others to attack the effort.”

Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Soros, confirmed that outlook, adding that Soros would not have objected to making his role public once he and his family started funneling money to J Street six months after its founding in early 2008.

“He knew that had he given the money at the beginning, media outlets would have tried to claim that the organization is a Soros-funded organization,” Vachon said.

That may have made sense in 2006, Foxman said, when Soros was associated with MoveOn.org, the provocative organization at the forefront of the opposition to the Bush administration, particularly its Iraq war.

“People who liked Bush because of Israel were upset because of MoveOn,” Foxman said.

It didn’t help that MoveOn was erroneously associated with a Web advertisement that likened Bush to Hitler, and that Soros himself said the times reminded him of aspects of his Nazi-era childhood in Hungary.

But, several observers said, the fraught politics of just a few years ago — when Soros was seen as an unhinged provocateur baiting the Bush administration and Republicans — were a thing of the past, with Democrats now controlling the White House and the U.S. Congress.

“His reputation is fine, he’s pro-peace,” Foxman said of the Soros of 2010.

For better or worse, insiders said, J Street’s very success has mainstreamed the very beliefs that had once occasioned anger against Soros.

The views espoused by J Street and Soros are now part of the mix, said Shai Franklin, a veteran of an array of mainstream groups like the World Jewish Congress and NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia. (See page 15.)

“It was unnecessary, and that’s what makes it a tragedy,” Franklin, now a senior fellow with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said of Ben-Ami’s deception. “People like me were willing to accept J Street as the new kid on the block, but this disfigures J Street.”

A source associated with J Street dismissed predictions that the controversy would turn J Street into a pariah, noting that 80 of the group’s leaders met separately Tuesday with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, and U.S. State Department officials.

To be sure, many Jewish conservatives, including U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, continue to cast Soros as a bogeyman and are seeking to make an issue out of his support for J Street.

They point to a piece on Israel and the pro-Israel lobby Soros wrote for The New York Review of Books in 2007.

“I am not a Zionist, nor am I am a practicing Jew,” he wrote. But, Soros added immediately, “I have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concern for the survival of Israel.”

He also sought to clarify 2003 comments that had led some critics to accuse him of blaming Jews and Israel for anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism predates the birth of Israel. Neither Israel’s policies nor the critics of those policies should be held responsible for anti-Semitism,” Soros wrote. “At the same time, I do believe that attitudes toward Israel are influenced by Israel’s policies, and attitudes toward the Jewish community are influenced by the pro-Israel lobby’s success in suppressing divergent views.”

Soros called for increased U.S. engagement in the Middle East peace process, asserted that Israeli governments have overemphasized the military option, argued against unilateralism and sought a way to include Hamas in negotiations.

While the article stirred much controversy at the time, it now reads like a blueprint for J Street’s agenda. So even without the Soros funding, Jewish hard-liners would have plenty of reasons to bash the organization. And several prominent and wealthy liberal pro-Israel activists have made a point of steering clear of J Street following the revelation in 2006 about Soros being a likely funder for the intended lobby.

J Street since its founding has attracted support in many liberal circles, so just how many Jewish doves are there who would back an organization that shares Soros’ positions and openly says it wants him as a financial supporter — but not if the organization actually takes his money?

In recent weeks, conservatives and other critics of Soros have noted the recent $100 million donation to Human Rights Watch, a group that is seen by Israel and many of the country’s supporters as biased in its treatment of abuses in the Middle East.

The donation “makes it a fine fit for George Soros, whose own biases are well established,” Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, wrote in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke. “In the Middle East, for example, his Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha, and Yesh Din.”

But J Street had openly associated with most of those groups, so news of the Soros funding was not needed to make the link.

One insider who monitors Human Rights Watch for bias told JTA that the group’s ties to Soros would not affect J Street’s image.

Soros, who made his billions in the hedge fund market, first became known for aggressively backing democratic movements in the former communist world. He also developed a reputation for micromanaging how his charitable money is spent and unabashedly using it to political ends.

Such an approach may have once been considered outsized, vulgar behavior for a philanthropist, but these days it is commonplace.

In the pro-Israel world, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson unashamedly wears his right-wing politics on his sleeve, and none of the many pro-Israel groups he funds is turning away his money.

Soros’ J Street role signifies a Jewish involvement that is always welcome from the very rich, according to some insiders — especially for someone who in the 1990s was known for his pronounced lack of interest in Jewish causes.

“He played an active role in different pro-democracy movements” in the former Soviet Union, said Mark Levin, who directs NCSJ. “I don’t think he ever really had an interest in dealing with the Jewish communities in those countries.”

Ultimately, much of the fury this week was directed at Ben-Ami instead of Soros — for misleading the public in the first place. Even in an apology posted on J Street’s blog, Ben-Ami appeared defensive.

“Those who attack J Street over the sources of its funding are not good government watchdogs concerned about the state of non-profit financing in the United States,” Ben-Ami wrote. “Our critics are really so concerned with transparency of funding, then I challenge them to reveal the sources of funds for the organizations with which they agree.”

“Legalisms,” sputtered Rabbi Steve Gutow, who directs the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups and has defended J Street on many occasions.

Gutow noted that a number of the JCPA’s constituent network of local community relations councils have praised J Street for helping to suck the wind out of anti-Israel divestment efforts by presenting a credible left-wing, pro-Israel alternative.

The potential loss of that voice was worrisome, he said.

“I am not happy that the Soros money was not explicitly admitted to all along by J Street,” Gutow said.

JTA

 
 

Unifying factor in 2010 election: Never before

image
Tea Partiers rally against Nevada Sen. Harry Reid March 27 in the Senate majority leader’s hometown of Searchlight. Mark Holloway

WASHINGTON – Talk to veteran campaign watchers about this year’s congressional races, and within seconds they will tell you that they’ve never before seen elections quite like these.

“We’ve never seen a cycle where there’s been this many races this close to an election and you don’t know how it’s going to come out,” said Joy Malkus, the research director at the Chicago-based Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, or JACPAC, a group that directs funding to candidates who are pro-Israel and moderate on social issues. “And I’ve been doing this since 1982.”

Dr. Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, a New Jersey-based, pro-Israel political action committee, agreed.

“This one has taken twists and turns that surprise almost all of us that follow these events,” said Chouake, who lives in Englewood. “I’ve never seen anything like this in all the years I’ve been doing this — in my lifetime.”

Despite the unfamiliarity of the terrain, the rules of the Jewish fund-raising road remain the same: Stick with your friends and get to know unknowns as fast as possible.

In fact, the only change might be to append a “more-so”: There are many more friends at risk, and there are a lot more unknowns. An anti-incumbent surge already has had an impact in the primaries, ousting a clutch of incumbents in the Senate, where races generally are much more expensive than in the House of Representatives.

“The thing that has created the greatest demand for money in the pro-Israel world are all these open Senate seats,” said Lonny Kaplan, a veteran pro-Israel giver who is based in Philadelphia’s New Jersey suburbs and is a past president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

A greater demand and, according to insiders, a surprisingly greater supply, considering the economy’s narrow straits. Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he has never seen money flowing like this in a non-presidential election year.

“This is the largest effort our leaders have made in a midterm — ever,” he said.

Here are some races to watch in this very watchable season:

Endangered incumbents: The triumvirate

A number of pro-Israel incumbents are at risk in the Senate. Some already have been or are almost being written off, among them U.S. Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Others at risk are rallying in the final weeks and have attracted a late burst of pro-Israel attention, including Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Reid, the majority leader, is facing a tough challenge from Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed Republican challenger. Reid is considered critical by the pro-Israel community because he has taken the lead in helping to shepherd through Iran sanctions legislation. He’s also seen as having advanced pro-Israel defenses, most recently in a letter with his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), pressing President Obama to designate the Turkish group behind the Gaza Strip aid flotilla as terrorist.

If Reid goes, and if the Senate changes hands, its pro-Israel cast is not likely to change: McConnell is also solidly pro-Israel and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the chamber’s most stalwart Israel defender (and a Jew from Brooklyn), likely would replace Reid.

Yet pro-Israel insiders say it remains a priority to keep in place a party leader who has been a proven champion of Israel.

“I’ve worked very hard for Harry Reid’s campaign, and the pro-Israel community has been very, very supportive of him,” Kaplan said. “It’s a very tough race. From my perspective we have a very friendly incumbent — it’s not hard to pick a side there.”

Boxer, a Jewish candidate who is facing former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, is likewise considered important because of the recent trend among liberal Democrats to question Israeli policies.

“She’s very liberal but also a leader,” said a donor who is close to top Democrats and did not want to be further identified. “She puts her name on pro-Israel legislation.”

Getting to know you: the Tea Partiers

Reid’s race is also considered critical also because he is facing Angle, who like most of the candidates backed by the Tea Party movement is friendly to Israel but also seeks budget cuts across the board. That makes her anathema to groups like JACPAC that are concerned about social services.

The Tea Party also makes some pro-Israel conservatives nervous because some in the movement want to slash foreign funding, although they have promised to work out a way to maintain funding for Israel. Some say that reveals a misunderstanding of the holistic nature of foreign aid: If aid is cut across the board, it signals an isolationism that can only harm Israel in the long run even if it benefits from short-term exceptions.

“The pro-Israel community has the challenge of keeping up foreign aid overall” if Tea Party candidates score major successes, said an insider associated with AIPAC.

That effort to keep up foreign aid already is under way, and pro-Israel insiders report warm conversations with Angle in addition to Mike Lee, the Republican candidate in Utah whose Tea Party insurgency unseated longtime incumbent GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, and Ken Buck, who is challenging Colorado’s Bennet.

Other Tea Party candidates have kept their distance from the pro-Israel community. They include Senate hopefuls Joe Miller, a Republican who is leading in Alaska, and Rand Paul in Kentucky.

Paul’s association with his father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whose isolationist polices have resulted in one of the worst pro-Israel records in the House, as well as the younger Paul’s reluctance to parry outside of his inner circle, have conferred upon his opponent, Democrat Jack Conway, the rare status of favored pro-Israel candidate in an open race. The pro-Israel donor community as a rule attempts to split the difference in such races, not wishing to alienate either side.

“Conway has great position papers on all of our issues — Israel, [reproductive] choice, and separation of church and state,” JACPAC’s Malkus said. “Rand Paul is not good on any of our issues.”

Unlikely challenges to incumbents — and unlikely incumbent

House Democrats facing challenging races across the country fall into two categories: Those who just months ago were seen as sure bets, and those who beat the odds to win in 2006 and 2008, when Democrats scored victories over a weakened Republican Party. In 2008, those underdog Democrats were buoyed by voters enthusiastic about presidential candidate Barack Obama.

A typical candidate who used to be seen as safe but now is in jeopardy is Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), who defeated his current opponent, Republican Allen West, by 10 points in 2008. Klein has strongly supported Israel in a heavily Jewish district that includes patches of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

West, however, has posed a formidable challenge this time, in part by linking Klein to a president perceived as less friendly to Israel than his predecessors, and in part because of anxieties among retirees over reports that Obama’s health-care reform will suck funds from Medicare, the government-funded insurance plan for retirees. An African-American Iraq war veteran, West also has an Achilles’ heel: Most recently he was associated with a biker gang that does not admit Jews or blacks as members.

Another Florida Jewish congressman is typical of the other column. In 2008, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), facing an incumbent weakened by a strong primary challenge, swept in in a district that encompasses Orlando and leans Republican.

Grayson, one of the most outspoken critics nationwide of the Republicans, is now in trouble, with outside Republican-affiliated groups pouring money into negative campaign ads. He has offset the blitz by raising four times as much as his Republican opponent, Daniel Webster, in individual donations, stemming from the joy his politically incorrect broadsides bring the Democratic base.

Grayson has accused Republicans of wanting the uninsured to die. Nonpartisan campaign watchers criticized Grayson recently for a TV ad that edited remarks to make Webster appear as if he were endorsing New Testament commands that wives should submit to their husbands. In fact, Webster was advising Christian fathers that they should ignore the commandments in question.

Which pro-Israel are you?

Two major campaigns have split the pro-Israel community: Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) vs. Alex Giannoulias for the open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) vs. Pat Toomey for the open Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

JACPAC is backing Sestak because of the organization’s twin missions of supporting Israel and moderate social policies. Toomey, Malkus notes, voted against foreign aid more often than not when he was a congressman in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

On the other hand, Sestak has been targeted by right-wing groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel for his associations with the left-wing pro-Israel lobby J Street.

By and large, however, J Street associations have not figured large in the campaign, said Kaplan, who is backing the Democratic incumbent Rush Holt in New Jersey.

JACPAC is staying out of the Kirk-Giannoulias race because of Kirk’s leadership role on pro-Israel issues in the House and his record as a Republican moderate. NORPAC’s Choauake referred to Kirk’s seminal role in shaping the enhanced Iran sanctions legislation that passed over the summer.

“He’s brilliant and hard working; he’s a mover and a shaker, “ he said of Kirk. “He can get stuff done — he knows how to strategize to get to the finish line.”

Races to watch? Try people to watch

Pro-Israel and Jewish money sometimes goes to candidates not because they need it, but because the community sees a future with the person in question.

That’s the case with Kelly Ayotte, a Republican leading in the open race for New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate seat, and Chris Coons, a Democrat in the same position in Delaware.

Ayotte “is someone who’s going to get into the Senate and do well,” Chouake said. “She’s been supported by Democratic and Republican governors as attorney general, which means she must be highly respected. She’s going to be a prime candidate for [the] executive branch if they’re looking for a young Republican woman.”

Coons, until now a little-known county executive, is also respected, said the pro-Israel insider close to Democrats.

“He’s very much up on the issues, very foreign policy attuned,” the insider said. “He pronounced [the name of Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad correctly.”

Reach out to the outreachers

Asked why he was backing Ayotte in the New Hampshire Senate race instead of Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), a Jewish congressman with a solid-pro-Israel voting record, NORPAC’S Chouake’s answer was simple: “She called me. He didn’t.” JTA

 
 

Federations, JCPA teaming to fight delegitimization of Israel

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are launching a multimillion-dollar joint initiative to combat anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.

The JFNA and the rest of the Jewish federation system have agreed to invest $6 million over the next three years in the new initiative, which is being called the Israel Action Network. The federations will be working in conjunction with JCPA, an umbrella organization bringing together local Jewish community relations councils across North America.

The network is expected to serve as a rapid-response team charged with countering the growing campaign to isolate Israel as a rogue state akin to apartheid-era South Africa — a campaign that the Israeli government and Jewish groups see as an existential threat to the Jewish state. In fighting back against anti-Israel forces, the network will seek to capitalize on the reach of North America’s 157 federations, 125 local Jewish community relations councils, and nearly 400 communities under the federation system.

“There is a very, very high sense of urgency in [fighting] the delegitimizing of the State of Israel,” the JFNA’s president and CEO, Jerry Silverman, told JTA. “There is no question that it is among the most critical challenges facing the state today.”

In fact, Silverman added, Israeli leaders identify this as the second most dangerous threat to Israel, after Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Under a plan approved in late September during a special conference call of the JFNA’s board of trustees, the JCPA’s senior vice president, Martin Raffel, will oversee the new network. He will be working in concert with the head of the JFNA’s Washington office, William Daroff. Over the next several months, Raffel will be putting together his team, including six people in New York, one in Israel, and one in Washington.

The network will monitor the delegitimization movement worldwide and create a strategic plan to counter it wherever it crops up. It will work with local federations and community relations councils to enlist the help of key leaders at churches, labor unions, and cultural institutions to fight anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.

Organizers of the network are looking at the response to an attempted boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival last year as a model for how the system could work.

When the festival organizers decided to focus on filmmakers from Tel Aviv, more than 1,000 prominent actors and filmmakers signed a statement saying that the organizers had become part of Israel’s propaganda machine, and they threatened to boycott the event. In response, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles worked together to come up with a counter-statement supporting the festival. The counter-statement bore the signatures of even more prominent Hollywood figures, including Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Alexander, and Lenny Kravitz.

“The partnership started last year around the Toronto international film festival,” said Ted Sokolsky, president of the Toronto federation. “We jointly produced an ad saying that we don’t need another blacklist.”

Sokolsky went on to say, “I spoke to Jay [Sanderson, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles] and said, ‘Here, there are a lot of prominent Hollywood types on the delegitimization protest. Can you reach out to the Hollywood community and find some pro-Israel leadership?’ He reached out to some key leadership in Hollywood. And it was like waking up a sleeping giant. Then we realized we can’t all fight this alone.”

He added, “It was a great lesson and set a template on how to respond because clearly, the other side is running a linked campaign with international funding and global strategy but local implementation.”

When similar delegitimizing attempts erupt, leaders of the new network plan to respond early, according to Silverman.

“If the community in Chattanooga all of a sudden is faced with [a boycott of] Israeli products in the mall, they should be able to call the [Israel] Action Network and have response and implementation within 12 hours, and not spend time thinking about how to do it,” he said. “We should be able to do that in every community.”

Toronto and Los Angeles are two of the largest federations in the JFNA system, but the smaller federations feel that the network will benefit them as well.

Michael Papo, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, said that Indiana has not yet witnessed a full-fledged anti-Israel boycott campaign.

“But it could happen,” he said. “It could happen quickly. It could happen on our college campuses, and it would be helpful to have that national network to call for help.”

Papo said he sees the network as being able to provide guidance when his federation has to face situations such as the one it faced several years ago, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) pursued a divestment strategy against Israel. At that time, he and his colleagues were able to influence local Presbyterian churches in Indiana to vote against the divestment campaign at their national convention.

“As a Jewish community, we have a huge range of contacts in the general community,” he said. “We are connected politically, culturally, socially, academically, and in the business world — anyplace we work and live, we have connections with neighbors.… If and when we need support, we are quite capable.”

Steven Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said that federations and their local partners are uniquely positioned to take on delegitimization campaigns against Israel.

“A top-down approach cannot fully comprehend or appreciate local nuance, and after each and every incident, when the headlines recede, it is the local community that is in the best position to strengthen the community for the future,” Nasatir said in an e-mailed statement. “Over the past few years, active local federations have countered the boycott of Israeli products by buyout of those same products. They have demanded that university institutions require civility from anti-Israel protestors trying to drown out Israeli speakers. And, through ongoing contact with local elected leaders, they have sensitized public officials and institutions to the need for fairness, civility, and appropriate monitoring of anti-Israel thuggery.”

While other groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Zionist Organization of America, and J Street, focus primarily on influencing the political arena, and others, such as the Israel Project and CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), key in on the media, the new network will aim to influence civic leaders.

The Jewish federations have agreed to give the JFNA $1.6 million to fund the project fully in its first year. In the two subsequent years, the federations will split the cost 50-50 with JFNA.

“Israel’s government has been advocating for this, especially over the past six months or eight months,” Silverman said. “It has been in dialogue within our federation movement for a while, especially following the Toronto incident and the incident in San Francisco with the film festival, and divestment movements in the Protestant and Presbyterian churches. This idea was born out of the large city executives meeting that said, ‘It is time. And time is running out.’ We have to do this quickly and we have to be armed in our community and be offensive, not defensive.”

Silverman said that he expects the Israel Action Network to be fully staffed and up and running by Jan. 1.

JTA

 
 

First sign of the new U.S. political reality — Bibi’s swagger

image
Randy Altschuler, right, a Republican who holds a slim lead in his suburban New York congressional district, campaigned this summer with Rep. Eric Cantor, at present the only GOP Jewish lawmaker in Congress. Courtesy Randy Altschuler for Congress

WASHINGTON – The sharpest signal of what last week’s elections meant for Jews came not from Washington but from New Orleans, Nova Scotia, and Australia.

In New Orleans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech Monday calling for moving beyond sanctions to mounting a “credible military threat” against Iran as a means of avoiding war.

News Analysis

“Containment will not work,” Netanyahu said in his address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

The prime minister’s remarks echoed the precise terminology used by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in Nova Scotia two days earlier, when he told the Halifax International Security Forum that “containment is off the table.” The likely new majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), referred to a “credible military threat” in the days before the election.

It was a clear sign that Netanyahu feels empowered by the Republican sweep last week of the House of Representatives to trump the Obama administration’s emphasis on peacemaking with the Palestinians with his own priority: confronting Iran.

The emerging gap between Israel and its Republican friends on one side and the White House on the other could presage a repeat of tensions in the late 1990s between Netanyahu, in his first term, and President Clinton — tensions that pro-Israel officials found themselves brokering, often to their discomfiture.

Obama administration officials have indicated that they will not be taking cues from anyone in setting foreign policy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking Monday in Melbourne, Australia, where he is on an official visit with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivered a rejoinder to Netanyahu’s remarks.

“We are prepared to do what is necessary, but at this point we continue to believe that the political-economic approach that we taking is in fact having an impact in Iran,” Gates said.

Gates’ response implicitly rejected not only an escalation but Netanyahu’s claim that sanctions are not working. It also signaled that the Obama administration was going to protect its foreign policy turf — the traditional White House posture when opponents take one of the houses of Congress.

That was clear already last week when Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s top aides, told sympathetic nongovernmental groups in an off-the-record phone call that the White House would be unwavering — even after losing the House majority — in pressing Israel and the Palestinians to return to the peace talks.

“The president has made it very clear that he is committed to doing whatever he can to foster talks in the Middle East,” said Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser for public engagement. “That’s not a partisan issue; his commitment to that is unwavering.”

But Netanyahu, speaking at the federations’ General Assembly, expressed confidence that he had U.S. backing in resisting Palestinian demands. He listed a number of items the Palestinian Authority is seeking, including a freeze on Jewish west bank settlement activity and a final-status deal that would remove Israeli forces from the west bank.

Netanyahu, however, told the crowd in New Orleans that Israel would stay in the Jordan Valley, the eastern part of the west bank, “for the foreseeable future.” The audience applauded.

“The Palestinians may think they can avoid negotiations,” Netanyahu said. “They may think that the world will dictate Palestinian demands to Israel. I firmly believe that will not happen because I am confident that friends of Israel, led by the United States, will not let that happen.”

GOP love for Israel

Beyond the ramping up of Iran rhetoric, the first signal that new Republican members who swept into office last week were going to make Israel a priority came from Marco Rubio, the Tea Party-backed candidate in Florida who romped to victory in the race for that state’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Rubio, 39, the son of Cuban exiles, punctuated five days of celebrations with a trip to Israel with his wife. He left Sunday on the private trip, which will include holy sites. Rubio, who converted from Roman Catholicism to Southern Baptist, plans an official visit after assuming his seat, a campaign official told the French news agency AFP.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which for decades has managed to secure the support of the leadership of both parties, responded to last week’s elections with a positive message.

“It is abundantly clear that the 112th Congress will continue America’s long tradition of staunch support for a strong, safe, and secure Israel and an abiding friendship between the United States and our most reliable ally in the Middle East,” AIPAC said in a statement. “Many of the strongest friends and supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship were re-elected on Tuesday.”

The statement named Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the once and future Senate majority leader, and Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio), likely to become the House speaker; Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is losing the speakership and is vying to become minority leader along with Steny Hoyer (D-Md.); and Cantor, who is vying for majority leader. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, also is a staunch Israel supporter but was not up for re-election last week.

Backing Democrats, growing unease with Obama

Exit polls showed Jewish support for Democrats remained strong, although commensurate with other recent polling showing increased misgivings about President Obama over his economic policies.

J Street, the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” group, conducted the only national exit poll. It showed that 66 percent of Jews supported Democrats in congressional elections, compared with 31 percent for Republicans. An American Jewish Committee poll conducted in September and October showed 57 percent of Jewish respondents supporting Democrats vs. 33 percent for Republicans. The numbers are sharply down from the 78 percent of Jews who voted for Obama in 2008, according to exit polling.

The J Street poll was conducted by Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications on Election Day, Nov. 2, and surveyed 1,000 voters who identified as Jews as part of a broader consumer panel. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Jim Gerstein, the pollster, is on J Street’s advisory council.

J Street and Gerstein also conducted an Election Day statewide poll in Pennsylvania, where conservative groups targeted Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) as anti-Israel in part because he was backed by J Street. The J Street poll showed 76 percent of Jews favoring Sestak to 19 percent for the winner, Republican Pat Toomey. The Republican Jewish Coalition also conducted a statewide poll of Jews the same day showing the break favoring Sestak 62 percent to 30 percent.

The difference apparently was that the RJC canvassed only Jews who were affiliated with synagogues. When unaffiliated Jews were polled — as they were in the J Street poll and as they are in AJC’s polls — the gap between Democratic and Republican support widened considerably.

By the numbers

JTA reported last week that Congress lost seven Jews in both houses, and gained two. The gain might be three.

In New York’s 1st Congressional District, a recanvassing of the voting machines erased Republican Randy Altschuler’s 3,400-vote deficit, propelling him to a lead of 392 votes over incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), who represents eastern Long Island.

Neither party was set to declare victory, as counting had yet to begin on 9,000 absentee ballots, but Bishop said Monday that he would demand a hand recount.

Altschuler, who owns a recycling company, would become the second Jewish GOP congressman, joining Cantor. His win would bring the number of Jews to 28 in the House, along with the 12 in the Senate.

A little farther upstate, GOP candidate Nan Hayworth, a physician, ousted Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) from the 19th District. Hayworth is a Lutheran but belongs to a synagogue with her Jewish husband and her two sons, whom she has raised as Jewish. That makes her the mirror image of Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who was elected from his Baltimore-area district in 2006. He is Greek Orthodox but belongs to a synagogue, and with his Jewish wife has raised his children as Jews.

JTA projected a win for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), and that became official last Friday night. The victory means a third term for Giffords, who was first elected in the GOP-leaning district in the Democratic sweep of 2006. She embraced tough immigration policies as part of her campaign this year, distancing herself from national Democrats.

Welcoming Blumenthal, Cicilline

The other two new Jewish congressmen are New Englanders: Sen.-elect Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), until now the state’s longtime attorney general, and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the mayor of Providence.

Cicilline is the first Jewish Rhode Islander elected to national office, the Providence Journal quoted David Goodwin, a historian of the island’s community, as saying. The state has elected a number of Jews to statewide offices, however, including governors.

Cicilline, whose mother is Jewish and a congregant of Temple Beth-El in Providence, also is the third openly gay male in Congress — and the third openly gay Jewish male in Congress, joining Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The only openly gay woman in Congress, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), is not Jewish.

Success in the states

As Blumenthal’s election demonstrates, election to statewide office often is a steppingstone to federal office. Count four more such steppingstones on Nov. 2: Jews won statewide races in Massachusetts, Arizona, Georgia, and Ohio.

Republicans Tom Horne in Arizona and Sam Olens in Georgia were elected attorney generals. Both are active in their communities and with the Republican Jewish Coalition.

So is Josh Mandel, a Republican state lawmaker and former Marine who was elected treasurer in Ohio. In Massachusetts, Steve Grossman, a former AIPAC president and ex-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also won the treasurer spot.

Pro-Israel insiders in Washington noted that, in different ways, Mandel and Grossman both have been leaders in the effort to sanction Iran and now are positioned to make sure that their states enforce such sanctions. As a lawmaker, Mandel led the effort to divest Ohio from Iran. Grossman, as AIPAC president in the mid-1990s, lobbied for the Iran sanctions passed by Congress at that time.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Beck under fire over Soros comments

Fox News provocateur Glenn Beck spent spent several days taking aim at billionaire businessman and philanthropist George Soros, but so far — at least within Jewish circles — the barrage appears to be backfiring.

On his radio and TV shows last week, Beck portrayed Soros as running a shadow government bent on controlling the global economy. Some liberal pundits and organizations responded by accusing Beck of relying on anti-Semitic tropes. But the widest range of condemnations came in response to Beck’s Nov. 10 comments on Soros’ childhood activities during the Holocaust:

“And George Soros used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off,” Beck said. “And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening.

“Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps. And I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God. As a 14-year-old boy, I don’t know what you would do.”

In fact Soros, then 13 and living under the protection of a non-Jewish Hungarian, on one occasion joined the older man when he was ordered by Nazis to inventory the estate of a Hungarian Jew who had fled. On another occasion, the local Jewish council had ordered Soros to deliver letters to local lawyers. Soros’ father, Tivadar, realized the letters were to Jewish lawyers and meant to expedite their deportation. He told his son to warn the targets to flee and ended the boy’s work with the council.

Soros, 80, has been slammed in some Jewish circles over his calls for increased U.S. engagement in the Middle East peace process and his strong criticism of Israeli policies. In recent months, some pro-Israel advocates and pundits have ripped J Street for accepting his money and lying about it. And during the Bush administration, it was Soros who was accused of unfairly playing the Holocaust card when he compared the Bush administration to the Nazi and communist regimes.

This time around, though, the loudest Jewish voices belong to those defending Soros from Beck’s attacks.

“This is the height of ignorance or insensitivity, or both,” said Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“As a kid, at 6, I spit at Jews — does that make me part of the Nazi machine?” Foxman said, referring to the fact that as a child he was protected by non-Jews who had not revealed his background to him. “There’s an arrogance here for Glenn Beck, a non-Jew, to set the standards of what makes a good Jew.”

Elan Steinberg, the vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called Beck’s attack “improper.”

“When you make a particularly monstrous accusation such as this, you have to have proof,” he said. “I have seen no proof.”

In the clearest sign that Beck may have overreached within Jewish circles, Jonathan Tobin of the conservative journal Commentary also took to the blogosphere to slam Beck.

“Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading,” wrote Tobin, who noted that he and his publication can usually be found in the camp of those bashing Soros. “There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo.”

Tobin echoed some liberal pundits in accusing Beck of taking Soros’ comments out of context, including a recording of the philanthropist discussing his efforts to undermine various governments. According to Tobin, Beck failed to make clear that Soros was talking about his support of Cold War-era dissidents in the Soviet Union and Soviet satellite states.

“In other words,” Tobin wrote, “while Soros’s current politics is abhorrent, he was one of the good guys when it came to the fight against Soviet Communism.”

Beck used the Nov. 12 edition of his radio show to defend himself against claims of anti-Semitism by describing himself as a “friend of the Jews.” He also argued that it was ridiculous to accuse him of playing up anti-Semitic stereotypes since he has spoken out against efforts to demonize bankers.

Besides, Beck said, Soros is anti-Israel. Beck’s co-host, Pat Gray, added that Soros was “probably anti-Jewish.”

During the same broadcast, Beck mistakenly claimed that the ADL was accusing him of anti-Semitism regarding the comments about Soros. In fact, Foxman and the ADL never used the A-word, instead calling Beck’s comments about Soros “completely inappropriate, offensive, and over the top.”

Unrelated to the flap over Soros, Foxman sent Beck an Oct. 22 letter apologizing for an ADL direct-mail piece that included Beck in a list of celebrities who had made anti-Semitic remarks over the past year.

“Even though we may disagree from time to time,” Foxman wrote, “I know that you are a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel.”

During his Nov. 12 radio broadcast, Beck also discussed having directed his staff to investigate whether any of Soros’ foundations or organizations had given money to the ADL. As it turns out, the ADL has denied receiving money from Soros. The organization did, however, recently organize a fund-raising dinner to honor Beck’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp., which owns Fox News.

This is not the first time that Beck has found himself being criticized by Jewish groups over comments relating to the Holocaust. Several Jewish leaders confronted Beck after he said during the recent election season that terms like “social justice” lead to death camps.

In response to those complaints, Fox News president Roger Ailes and vice president Joel Cheatwood met in August with three Jewish organizational leaders: Simon Greer, the director of Jewish Funds for Justice; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Subsequently Beck sent Greer a note saying that he understood “the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in human history.” Last week, in response to the broadcasts about Soros, Greer said that Beck and Fox had made a “mockery of their professed understanding.”

Greer sparked controversy following the meeting with Fox officials by claiming that they had sided with Jewish leaders. Fox officials and other sources familiar with the meeting disputed Greer’s account, saying that Ailes and Cheatwood simply expressed sympathy for their concerns but never criticized Beck.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
Page 2 of 3 pages  <  1 2 3 >
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30