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Helping Jews Fight Fair
Tue, 02/08/2011

How are we to respond when Jewish cultural institutions are accused of hurting Israel’s cause by presenting exhibits, films or performances critical of particular aspects of the Jewish state’s policies?

These complaints have been heard of late from a small but vocal number of critics of the JCC in Manhattan and the Foundation for Jewish Culture, two institutions with a proud record of supporting Israel and Jewish artists, nurturing their work and helping to create and strengthen Jewish identity, culture and community.

The critics are calling on these and other Jewish institutions to formally distance themselves from any groups supportive of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The leaders of the institutions insist that it is anathema for organizations championing artists and free expression to pre-censure such work, and assert that their long and proud record of support for Israel, in a myriad of educational and programmatic ways, should be proof enough of their noble goals and mission.

What’s more, diverting attention away from those who seek to delegitimize Israel — a key concern — is counterproductive.

The controversy underscores the deep division in the American Jewish community regarding Israel today, between left and right, between hawks and doves, when each side seems convinced that the other’s approach could prove fatal to Jerusalem.

There are no easy answers here, and we believe in vigorous debate on such important issues. But when Jews accuse other Jews of traitorous motives, in the name of protecting Israel, we have all lost.

A new report unveiled this week at the North American Jewish Day School Conference in Los Angeles offers some insight into how to approach controversy over Israel. A study by the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at Hebrew University explored whether day schools are doing an effective job of teaching about modern Israel, and suggested that offering students a wide variety of viewpoints may bolster rather than diminish loyalty to the Zionist cause.

That dovetails with the Jewish cultural institutions’ argument that young people don’t want to feel they are being given one-sided information; they want to decide for themselves what is authentic.

Finally, it might be constructive for our community to review and reflect on a set of guidelines painstakingly prepared by the San Francisco Jewish community after a conflict over the showing of a controversial, critical film about Israel at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in 2009 caused a deep split in the community.

The guidelines call for diverse opinions to be expressed but draw the line at promoting “bigotry, violence or extremist views.” It also opposes those who seek to undermine “the legitimacy of Israel as a secure, independent, democratic Jewish State, including participating in the BDS movement, in whole or in part.”

While some Jewish officials here may resist the idea of guidelines as too restrictive, leaders in San Francisco say the policy has helped coalesce the community around commonly held “core values” about Israel.

That doesn’t mean disagreements have ended, but they are framed within the context of a policy arrived at by a wide range of community leaders. Such an approach, reflecting our own community’s parameters, might be helpful in avoiding future internal battles that only weaken us all.

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Boycotting the oppression of 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation because you want to spare the state the consequences of failed and destructive policies is neither an act of extremism nor an act of anti-Zionism, it is an act of responsible Zionism and, in the current climate, a considerably brave expression of one's commitment to the continued existence of the Jewish state. If we continue to allow the Richard Allens and Craig Dershowitzes of the world define the limits of how one may express their love and support for Israel, you can kiss the Jewish future and the state of Israel goodbye. If Israel's most vocal blinders-wearing supporters continue to demonstrate to the wider public that the Jewish community cannot tolerate dissenting views within its ranks, all they do is illustrate to the true enemies of Israel that the state and our resolve are so weak that Israel can be toppled with the faintest blow. Down with the Israel-right-or-wrong thought police and the untold damage they have already wreaked on our credibility, our morality, and our sustainability.
so you know better than the israelis who after all voted for these policies? what do you think, should I start lobbying the UN to boycott the US for not promoting internal policies to my liking?
Should we not have demonstrated for Soviet Jewry's freedom because it was a state policy we had no business disagreeing with? Should we not have opposed the Holocaust or any contemporary genocide -- say Darfur -- because we're interfering in another state's business? When Jews around the world and those with whom we are in solidarity suffer, should we not speak up? As a Zionist, in order to justify the demand of my emancipation and statehood, I am obliged to demand the right of self-determination for and to support the struggles of all other oppressed peoples. Contrary to the view that Jewish leftists delight in the slander of Israel, it is with great torment to my heart and soul that I say Israel is an oppressor, and as an oppressor you lose certain privileges, like being trusted to make decisions that are in your own or the oppressed's best interests. The fate of another people -- Palestinian freedom and statehood -- is not a matter upon which Israelis are entitled to vote. It cannot be one's democratic will to deny others their inalienable human and civil rights. You can't deny a civilian population emancipation and also claim that you are a free and democratic country. You cannot deny another state the right to exist while using indistinguishable arguments to justify your own right to exist. Because most Israelis don't see this and refuse to recognize that others' awareness of this hypocrisy imperils the state, my commitment to the continued existence of the state of Israel obliges me to act. I will not stand idly by while the sovereignty of the Jewish people hangs in the balance.
As President of Artists 4 Israel, one of the small but vocal critics described in The Jewish Week’s Helping Jews Fight Fair, it is my duty to respond to the concerns expressed within this article. In full disclosure, I am also a recipient of this same paper’s 36 Under 36 award, an award given, in no small part, for my work in creating an Israeli advocacy organization that is, to paraphrase, “decidedly conservative” in its “ardent defense” of Israel. There are far too few organizations like Artists 4 Israel. Israel related groups have all adopted the critical, intellectual and righteous approach that their work must rise above petty politics and transcend opinion. These are admirable traits for an individual but not for an organization. In the name of what is, at best, equanimity and fairness, and, at worst, the nefarious sabotage of Israel haters operating like sleeper cells within the ranks of places like the JCC and the Foundation for Jewish Culture, these organizations pose far greater a threat to both Israel and to the honest discourse about Israel than do the organized, delegitimization shock troops who oppose this beautiful country. It is when we fail to call out the liars and apologists that we have “lost all.” The anti-Israel groups have power, money, organization, strategy and, above all else, a complete lack of the infighting and slavish, guilty need to present all sides of an argument – even when they know one side to be misinformed, lying or created from hate – that characterizes and weakens the Israeli side. By opposing the enemies of Israel with the same fervor and fire that they use to attack it, we benefit all by providing two equal and competing sets of ideas. The definition of fairness is to choose between equals, not to have one side of ideas expressed and the other spilled, suggested and stumbled over. We create an opportunity for honest, unbiased dialogue by openly and proudly proclaiming our viewpoints and the historical facts that support them. To do less is to cede the argument, cede Israel and cede rational, fair, comprehensive discourse. You can be certain that there are no papers or articles within the anti-Israel community suggesting “core values” or “diverse opinions.” Such would get in the way of achieving their goal. A goal we should consider when preparing our response. Indeed, as the Melton report indicates, the world and young Jews in particular respond best to a full and complete set of ideas. Let us provide them with one more in that set – an open, proud and avowed support for Israel. In our cynical age, the youth are far too aware of pandering and false fairness. They have grown up and tuned out of a Jewish religious culture that equivocated. For those who have re-found a connection through their ancestral homeland and the passionate allure of Zionism, let us not disregard them too with leaders who are uncertain, self-flagellating and cow-towing to any and all ideas before them. Only then can we begin to repair the wounds of infighting and shape world opinion based on equal and opposing viewpoints. Those in the Jewish and Israeli advocacy communities that are seeking strong leaders, let them find Artists 4 Israel. We first coined the term "culture war" over two years ago and are, today, actively fighting the BDS and PACBI. We can use your help.
Except in this weak editorial, there is no "controversy" surrounding the BDS movement. They are leftwing anti-Zionists, many of whom are not Jewish, who want to destroy Israel. Jewish institutions who do business with them are shooting Israel and our Jewish community in the foot.
To the Board Members of the JCC in Manhattan: I am hopeful that you will take the direct suggestion within the editorial in the Jewish Week and pass the guidelines I suggested in my letter to the board. The JCC in Manhattan’s continued Partnering and Linking to organizations that support and fund the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is unsustainable . The JCC in Manhattan’s use of code words such as we “support the people of Israel” is not enough and I will not accept this position for a Jewish communal organization while it works hand in glove in partnering, linking & supporting BDS groups and their funders. It is time that the Board act responsibly and pass the guidelines that support the Democratic Jewish State of Israel and make clear that it will not support or work with groups that further BDS in any form, whatsoever. How this issue is addressed is in the hands of the JCC in Manhattan’s Board of Directors. I urge you to pass the BDS Guidelines and put this matter to rest. I as well as the numerous organizations and individuals that have reached out these past weeks to support this effort await your public and transparent response. In the spirit of the Jewish Week’s editorial, you owe it to the greater Jewish community and the members of the JCC in Manhattan. It is time for you to act.
Please see this open letter in response to this article: http://artists4israel.blogspot.com/2011/02/open-letter-to-the-jewish-week-jcc-and.html


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