If a small group of grassroots Jewish organizations have their way, more than one hundred protestors will assemble in New York City on April 29, 2014, each carrying a shofar. On cue, at 5:30 in the afternoon, rain or shine, all will raise their curved rams’ horns, long and short, and wail to the heavens in visceral unison producing a piercing spectacle of protest. The cacophonous alarms will continue their outcry until the shofar blowers feel they have made their point. What are they protesting? It is their communal leadership.
The dissident shofar blowers will assemble in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York. The Federation’s beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, is the chief organizer of the Celebrate Israel Parade scheduled for June 1st. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade has become a maelstrom of disunity over the participation of the controversial New Israel Fund and other groups which recent revelations now link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.
The outrage in some American, Jewish, and Israeli circles over the NIF’s inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor?
More than a few American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by such groups as the J Street lobby, the New Israel Fund, and other organizations that constitute a powerful, well-funded minority able to wage war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people. “These groups are anti-Jewish,” says Judith Freedman Kadish, special project director of Americans for a Safe Israel, “and they are funding groups that are anti-Semitic. They just veil their actions by saying they are trying to influence public policy and an occupation.” The accused organizations and their defenders in the Jewish media and within the Jewish activist community vigorously insist their activities are simply democratic dissent aimed at solving Israel’s problems.
The New Israel Fund, enabled by taxpayer subsidies of its 501(c)(3) status, has been a pivotal funder of the BDS movement that wages economic war against Israel. Until 2011, the NIF was a lead supporter of the Coalition of Women for Peace, which established a global BDS infrastructure. According to NIF financial records, in 2008 alone, the NIF bestowed $93,457 upon the Coalition of Women for Peace. Over a period of years, NIF financing of this organization reached a strong six-figure sum, which included both direct grants and those where the NIF acted as a go-between for other donors, a technique they called “donor advised funding.”
The NIF no longer provides money to the Coalition of Women for Peace. Now, the CWP is strong enough to gather its monies from other sources. But detractors say the irreparable damage was done. Moreover, the BDS movement today is fortified by a conveyor belt of brutality and oppression accounts — some legitimate, some exaggerated, some invented — force fed to the world by agitation NGOs, including many financed by the New Israel Fund. NIF’s financial records for 2012 indicate that it granted $109,615 to Breaking the Silence, $255,477 to B’Tselem, and $209,161 to Adalah. These three groups are among dozens of NIF grantees that critics accuse of operating on the front lines of anti-Israel information and distorting the facts about international law as it affects Israel. Numerous Knesset members and Israeli military men have gone on record to decry the NIF as a well-financed, foreign, multinational NGO, hell-bent on “destabilizing the Israel Defense Forces” and erasing the Jewish identity from the State of Israel.
For example, NIF recipient Adalah’s admitted mission is to erase Israel’s Jewish identity and get Israelis prosecuted for war crimes in foreign capitals. On its website, Adalah brags of its robust role in the now-retracted Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. B’Tselem provides cameras to agitators involved in orchestrated confrontations with Israeli soldiers, even as it tolerates repeated child endangerment by Palestinian provocateurs in the process. Another NIF recipient, an online publication known as +972, has published a Photoshopped image graphically depicting Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in their underwear holding their crotches while carrying rifles, as well as a cartoon depicting former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak raping and eating the limbs of Barack Obama in outer space.
On its website, Partners for a Progressive Israel, has prominently encouraged the boycott of such Israeli products as Ahava and Sodastream. If the Sodastream facility were being run by Mormons from Utah, Polish nuns from Warsaw, or Mennonites from Indiana, it would be up for a Nobel Prize. Moreover, when confronted and called on it, no one can reliably cite the international law Sodastream is allegedly violating with its factory known to treat all equally.
Now, several Jewish and Zionist organizations are vociferously demanding that the NIF, B’Tselem, and Partners for a Progressive Israel all be excluded from marching in the upcoming annual Celebrate Israel Parade. The NIF has participated in prior years. These grassroots groups and individuals — about a dozen main ones — include Rabbi Elie Abadie of the architectonic Edmond de Safra Congregation in Manhattan, the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for a Safe Israel, and the campaign’s central mover, JCC Watch, headed up by Richard Allen, a private individual.
The anti-NIF protesters have been dismissed as a “fringe.” New York’s Jewish Week ran an NIF op-ed defaming the protesters as a “tiny extremist group.” Ardent Israel supporter Alan Dershowitz decried the exclusion effort. The Anti-Defamation League in a statement and New York’s Jewish Week in an editorial, denounced JCC Watch for a protest flyer featuring a photo of the 1933 iconic “April First” Nazi boycott of Jews in Germany.
In his flyer, Allen of JCC Watch was referencing that the organized international Arab boycott against Jews began on April 1, 1933, after the Mufti of Jerusalem imported Hitler’s April First boycott into the Arab and Islamic world. Few remember that April First Nazi boycott was launched by Hitler after a million-man, anti-Nazi protest in Madison Square Garden and elsewhere a few days earlier on March 27, 1933. Even fewer recall that the March 27 rally was preceded earlier that month by a scraggly, rag-tag assemblage of Jewish War Veterans, who marched in New York City calling for a pre-emptive boycott of Nazi Germany. As they marched, those JWV were vociferously denounced, disowned and marginalized by the leaders of organized Jewry who labeled them as “nobodies” and “extremists,” saying they “speak for no one.” History immutably records that the JWV actually spoke for many — and long before others were willing to speak at all.
JCC Watch and its anti-NIF coalition might be a so-called “fringe,” with an unpolished website, inelegant rhetoric and few dollar resources. But its message has struck a chord. Perhaps one hundred chords. Perhaps wailed by one hundred shofars on a street corner in Manhattan. Kadish of AFSI says she has never blown a shofar before in her life—but on April 29, she intends to be in front of the UJA offices to sound off. Allen of JCC Watch says he has been assured, “Shofars will come from far and wide as we chant ‘Hear O’ Israel.’”
Maybe … just maybe … something is happening.
The movement for the Jewish community to draw lines may have gained traction as a result of an unrelated April 11, 2014 event. The controversial lobby known as J Street, which applied for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was subjected to what The Forward called “a grilling” by the Conference’s membership selection committee over J Street’s ties to other BDS movement organizations, such as Jewish Voices for Peace. A source described the session as “passionate, intense — a lot of arguing.” Ultimately, she added, “the selection committee declined to vote, making it procedurally very difficult” for J Street to join the Presidents’ Conference. The esteemed Presidents’ Conference epitomizes the Jewish communal mainstream, reflecting a vast gamut of views — from Americans for Peace Now, highly-critical of Israel, to the staunchly defensive Zionist Organization of America--52 organizations in all.
In the days before the selection committee’s “grilling,” the leadership of several organizations and well-known commentators expressed dismay that J Street — sometimes accused of fronting for the Arab Lobby — would even apply. An opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post last fall declared, “[J Street] Founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami refuses to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ … co-founder Daniel Levy has described Israel’s creation as ‘an act that went wrong.’ … Ben-Ami was also proven to be a serial liar when, despite his repeated denials, the anti-Israeli George Soros was exposed as one of his major contributors.”
Now, as the Jewish and Israeli media buzzes with the kitchen-table revolt cooked up by JCC Watch, Rabbi Abadie, and others railing against the NIF’s participation in the Celebrate Israel Parade, the umbrage against the NIF’s participation is only growing. Rabbi Abadie has threatened to pull his congregation’s participation and financial support for the parade, and like-minded Sephardic congregations have promised to join him. An article in The Algemeiner likened the NIF’s parade inclusion to “appeasement.” Earlier this month, Member of Knesset Nissim Ze-ev joined flag-waving protestors in a Manhattan demonstration against the JCRC. MK Ze-ev declared, “Any Jewish organization which supports the BDS [movement] has no place among supporters of Israel. The UJA and JCRC, as leading organizations of American Jewry, must adhere to this policy if they are to be considered supporters of Israel.”
An April 4, 2014 article on the controversy in The Jerusalem Post led with the subhead: “Diaspora Affairs Ministry reconsidering its funding of future parades.” Subsequent reports conveyed confusion over whether the ministry was considering pulling funding or simply reallocating its budget. A number of Israeli officials consider themselves at war with the New Israel Fund. A source in the Celebrate Israel Parade management, not authorized to speak to the media, stated, “The parade derives its revenue from registration fees, float sponsorship, private philanthropy, and a grant from the Israeli government.” A second parade management source added, “The money from the Israeli government is not reduced but each year comes from different ministries and offices in tweaked amounts.”
In an interview, NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch defended his group stating, “Some of these folks are saying that the NIF is now synonymous with the boogie man … We get blamed for everything. It is patently absurd. It bears no relation to reality. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sort of sad.”
Clearly, a key demonstration of Jewish unity for Israel has now transmogrified into roiling divisiveness. That’s the opposite of the parade’s intent. For this reason, NIF supporters call for the open tent of inclusion to be broad enough to allow the most dissident factors in.
The Jewish community is now looking at its own mainstream and some are asking if the river banks need to be more defined and steeper. Some are also asking if whether the open tent, so precious to all, can survive if burning flames are brought inside.
Edwin Black is the award-winning author of the international bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. This article is drawn from his just-released newsbook, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel.