Richard Friedman
Jewish Federation director, Journalist
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It’s not for Jewish organizations to say what Israel should do

Jewish leaders in the Diaspora should refrain from giving Israel advice in public, especially during wartime and peace talks

As a Jewish Federation director in a part of the country — Alabama — where there are relatively few Jews yet tremendous interest in Israel, due in part to our state’s strong Christian community, I am constantly asked by the media and others for comments on Israel and its security challenges.

I am always happy to respond and typically stress Israel’s continuing search for peace, difficult neighborhood, and importance to the US as the region’s only authentic democracy

In addition, I always have believed that when it comes to Israel’s security, those of us in positions of Jewish leadership should refrain from suggesting what Israel should or shouldn’t do, regardless of how tempted we might be to do so. Instead, our focus should be on helping the media, general public and even our own Jewish communities understand the context and rationale behind Israel’s decisions and actions

And, having served as Executive Director of The Birmingham Jewish Federation for 31 years, I concluded long ago that the two most important times to follow this policy are when Israel is at war or engaged in peace discussions

Hopefully, we are now on the verge of a genuine breakthrough with the Palestinian Authority leadership. Yet as much as we care about and follow Israel, organizations such as our Federation usually don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes and what’s being discussed privately. Thus it’s all the more reason we should refrain from suggesting publicly what path Israel should take.

When it comes to war and peace — matters of life and death — Jewish leaders and organizations must lead the way in respecting the right of Israelis themselves to make the decisions they think are best, through their own democratic processes and democratically-elected government. As I tell people all the time, the Israelis are the ones who live there, not us, and we must respect their right to make their own security decisions.

For those of us who’ve been involved with Israel and Jewish life for a long time, we know that peace negotiations often have all sorts of stops and starts and can be a long and winding road. They can lead to frustration or they can come to fruition. In any event, we must resist the temptation to suggest what Israel should or shouldn’t do or comment editorially on the positions Israel takes

We, at The Birmingham Jewish Federation, always have followed the philosophy outlined above. As peace talks hopefully evolve, we are more committed than ever to standing by Israel’s side, helping people in our area appreciate Israel’s yearning for peace and willingness to take risks based on mutual compromise. This is our role and this is our responsibility. In Birmingham, Alabama, we will fulfill it.

About the Author
Richard Friedman is Executive Director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation in Alabama. He also is a well-known Alabama journalist.