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American Jewish organizations fail to combat anti-Semitism

Only aggressive, systematic, and consistent measures will make it clear that messing with the Jews is a bad plan

A recent series of anti-Semitic incidents in Germany and Switzerland showcase the limits of influence by major international and American Jewish organizations. Despite having satellite offices all over Europe, despite all the frequent flier miles amassed by heads of these august institutions, despite the endless palaver sessions with European heads of state over endless breakfast pastries and coffee — not much has been accomplished in making European atmosphere unwelcoming to anti-Semitism and violent attacks towards what is widely perceived as a community of soft targets. The excuses that these attacks are a result of European immigration policies no longer works, for the simple reason that regardless of the nature of the refugees, migrants, or others who are seeking and failing to integrate into the European social fabrics, the failure here is quite basic.

Avoiding violence does not reach the level of high minded tolerance and mutual respect, which may indeed take a lot of work, whenever there appears to be a violent clash between different cultures and mindsets. Here, however, we see is a basic failure in law enforcement and in keeping social order, which is foundation for any society, long before we begin discussion on interfaith dialogue and education. It’s very simple: if Germans are expected to obey the law, so should the aspiring Germans no matter where they come from. Ditto for Switzerland, France, Belgium, and all other countries. Whether or not they like Jews (Kurds, Christians, women, gays… insert any other group) is completely irrelevant to the issue. Completely biased people can and do every day abstain from breaking the law.

Where a society loses control over the ability not to feel, but to control its emotions, it becomes a tangled chaos where no one’s rights are ultimately respected; it disintegrates. For that reason, in the United States, we should be wary of even minor erasure of social norms in the face of heated political discussions and differences, including harassment of public officials we disagree with, stalking, or any sort of minor vandalism. It with the minor lawbreaking that becomes permissible, accepted, normalized, and even praiseworthy that the social order starts to  fall apart. In other words, a culture of impunity, political correctness, and corruption has allowed people who otherwise would have quickly been deported or imprisoned to operate the way only people who know that no one minds their actions do.  However, it is a little insulting to lecture European leaders on the art of governance in their own countries, so then it becomes an issue of sensitivities and concerns. The fact that the European countries are failing to protect their own citizens, causing many of them to flee does not appear to concern these officials.

But are the organizations supposedly fighting for the future of Jews in Europe really intent in rallying all powers that be in defense of Jewish communities? Like many humanitarian NGOs around the world, the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations has become a convenient way for people of particular backgrounds to amass fortunes and perks, while traveling on the dime of their donors around the world, gaining access to important people as a result of a self-fulfilling perception of power and influence, and also getting to talk about how important they are and what great work they are doing.  Most of the action in the battlefields of the Jewish non-profit world takes place in the form of issued statement and occasional lobbying with various domestic and foreign officials. Empowered to represent Jewish communities by the mere fact of being high level staffers at a particular organizations, it is sometimes unclear whether the message these representatives carry has any effect at all behind the closed doors, as opposed to public gestures or contributions to mass campaigns for which same organizations are only too happy to claim credit.

Why are these organizations failing? Why do we, every day, get to hear about some new vicious attacks against random Jewish citizens of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium or Germany — and despite making a lot of noise, ultimately drop our money into the black hole of the Jewish organizational world, which is somehow best qualified to defend the vulnerable communities, and go on with our day? How did we outsource fighting tough political battles to self-appointed experts who thrive on having a mission, and who, in the absence of problems, sometimes seek to create them by going on mission creeps, or making friends with dubious allies just to be able to show the ability to effect change anywhere, in some way? The ability to organize effectively is not the same thing as the ability to act effectively. There are several things that are worthy of reviewing in whether or not the organized structures in the Jewish world should reconsider their strategies — and whether or not these structures should be getting involved in any political issues if they persist with their existing models.

First, the missions of advocacy for Israel and against anti-Semitism are frequently not clearly defined. In other words, so long as these organizations have X meetings with X high level officials and bring up issues that are more or less agreed upon to be of concern, they can advertise themselves as successful, and important voices. Frequently, however, the Jewish community at large is not informed about what it is that they are trying to achieve. Outcomes may not always line up with the original goal. And if the question posed does not strike at the crux of the issue to begin with, it is little wonder that the results vary widely, and may have little to do with the organizations or their outreach.

Accountability and measurement of results are not frequently discussed; separating out involvement from independent success in accomplishing a goal is not part of the presentations to the public or the donors. In fact, in so far as the incidents of violent anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in Europe, all these meetings have more or lees been filled with noise.  The strategies of the governments in questions have not evolved or changed to deal with the massive problem; prevention of escalation and incidents, education of communities and individuals, and empowerment of Jewish communities to combat these threats and to be prepared on an individual level to fend off attacks has been part of largely symbolic discussions.

It’s unclear whether these governments are particularly interested in eradicating this issue, or for that matter, whether they appreciate having to meet with various Jewish representatives over and over again. At the end of the day, what leverage do these Jewish organizations have other than potentially bad publicity for these governments? However, that leverage is only excersized in the most egregious cases — when a government or some portion of the government aligns with BDS, adopts a particularly one-sided anti-Israel position, or issues an extreme statement or sides with what is perceived by the donors of this or that organization, an extreme ideology, group, or political party. Otherwise, if the Jewish organizations place more public pressure on these governments than in those rare instances, they risk losing access — and then they will have no more opportunity to travel to European capitals, meeting important people, and then boasting about what great things their representatives did on their websites and in fundraising meetings.

The governments do not necessarily have incentives to expend significant resources on conducting studies, engaging in prophylactic measures, and dedicating forces to vetting mechanisms inside communities at risk for radicalization or criminality. It’s much easier to assign a security force to a few Jewish sites, issue some statements, and arrest attackers once they are caught, reactively. Should France and Germany have to face international embarrassment at the UN or other significant fora as failing states that cannot control their anti-Semites, they might deal with the widespread problem of out-of-control radicals very differently. However, for obvious reasons, very few Jewish organizations (if any) are willing to go to such lengths.

In some cases, the problem may be less with the governments than with particular political parties, such as Labor in the UK, which not only whitewashes anti-Semitism, dilutes language, and whose heads align with terrorist organizations, but which has discriminated against Jews and dog whistled to the masses, welcoming every radical into its fold until embarrassing scandals forced the party leadership to temporarily expel some of the most egregious members.  Some courageous individuals within the party are fighting a valiant fight to excise such hateful ideological leanings from its body. International Jewish organizations have been welcoming to being informed about such internal efforts, and may have even backed these efforts.  But would they break relations with Amnesty and contribute to a lawsuit for its discriminatory treatment of Hillel Neuer in London? Would they drag Jeremy Corbyn to international courts for his backing of Hamas and Hezbullah?  Would they be willing to stage an aggressive all out attack on the very institutions that facilitate open anti-Semitism and embrace anti-Israel terrorist organizations? All of that is highly doubtful.

After all, when such incidents happen in the United States, and Jewish students face discrimination and even physical attacks on campuses, most of the very same or similar organizations are all too happy to issue statements of concern and condemnations, and on occasion, may even hire a lawyer for one or two of the affected students. However, they do not believe in hounding the university authorities which make such bullying practices acceptable and welcome on campus, and who will side with the professors or student groups pressuring the Jewish students to be excluded from class before they call for an outright expulsion of such groups, individuals, or faculty. There is nothing to be gained for pursuing a war on the academy,  on discriminatory media (we are talking about public confrontations and lawsuits for outright fabrications and deliberate defamation, not endless op-eds and exposures read only by the like-minded donors).  Nothing except costs, aggravation, and possibly even having to face the fire alongside the immediate victims.

But in reality only such aggressive, systematic, and consistent measures by the organized and supposedly powerful Jewish community would make the case that a) we will not stand for being victimized or treated disrespectfully and b) we are indeed a force to be reckoned with, and an attack on our identity will bear serious, appropriate, and proportional social and legal consequences. Unlike some of the more extreme Trump supporters, I do not suggest throwing ourselves behind Alinsky tactics and merely shouting down our ideological opponents or even people we find deeply unpleasant for the mere fact of finding their views threatening or distasteful. I am, however, quite sure that unless we start  holding attackers, and their facilitators, apologists, or governments who choose to turn a blind eye to the pervasive problem, accountable for the well being of the people who are affected by acts of aggression, it’s not just the well being of the Jews in Europe that will suffer, but eventually the life of the Jewish communities in North America, and the interests of Israel. Despite Israel’s outstanding military, economic, and diplomatic achievements, an Israel that does not maintain a strong bond with the Jewish communities around the world is like an accomplished fighter, who nevertheless, is fighting with one hand tied behind his back. Yes, he can still “survive,” maybe even win. But at what cost?

I strongly suggest that Jewish organizations drop the mission creep of dedicating all their efforts towards chasing domestic social justice programs that have little to do with their unique strengths and expertise and refocus the fight on where it matters and where they can make a difference — before the tide turns, and the same people who could have been prevailed upon to do the right thing at an appropriate time, turn on these organizations, and they, too, fall victims to the same processes.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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