I just got a press release from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) announcing a new program to “fight efforts to delegitimize Israel,” and I confess, it caught me at an inopportune time.
The reason: I've been thinking more and more about the fact that Jewish groups all want to ride the same train – the locomotive of Israel activism. And I wonder how much of that comes at the expense of other critical areas of Jewish life.
Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with fighting efforts to delegitimize Israel. And Israel is certainly not outside JFNA's purview.
But consider the other issues JFNA and its member agencies face – and look at the glut of other agencies, some with more expertise in the issue, already fighting against delegitimization.
Already, federal funding for key health and social service programs, including many that Jewish agencies supported by JFNA provide, is on a downward trajectory, with deeper cuts almost certain after next month's election. With a long list of states near bankruptcy, state funding is even bleaker.
At the same time, Jewish poverty is rising and an aging Jewish population will be needing services that the government can longer fund, at least at current levels; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain unfixed, with the Baby Boom tidal wave heading their way.
A recent study shows sharp decline in giving to numerous Federations, suggesting countless agencies could be in real trouble as the perfect storm of rising demand for services, governments that can't afford to keep funding them and declining Jewish philanthropy rages.
Isn't this a situation that calls for triage at JFNA – for putting the agency's resources where they're needed the most, and letting others carry the burden on Israel?
We have AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, the Israel Project, ZOA, APN, J Street (please, no letters about J Street, I've heard it all already), CAMERA, B'nai B'rith and countless other smaller agencies, all of which are wholly or heavily involved with Israel, all of which, in their own ways, are fighting the delegitimization trend.
Shouldn't JFNA be thinking about setting up emergency programs to deal with the looming health and social services disaster instead of starting yet another program to make Israel's case?
Is Israel activism so sexy that no agency can resist its siren call?
I just talked to William Daroff, JFNA's Washington director and public policy guy, and he made a decent case why this project makes sense for the group.
With its 157 local agencies around the country, JFNA (and its partner in this project, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs) can mobilize, energize and connect grass-roots groups in a way none of the other big organizations can.
When a Jewish film festival in Aspen is boycotted, JFNA can connect local activists with other communities that have experienced similar assaults on Israel.
“We can connect the dots,” he said.
Maybe. But it seems to me there is a lot of redundancy when it comes to Israel activism. In good times, maybe that doesn't matter; with the current uncertain economic climate, perhaps it does.
It comes down to this: with the possibility JFNA's importance in the lives of countless American Jews could be about to soar in this frightening economy, maybe now's not the time to be jumping into a fight in which so many others are already engaged.
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