Why did Breira Implode: Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf’s Refusal to Take Funds from a Foreign Government

For some reason, some bloggers have seen fit of late to attack the integrity of the late Chicago Rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf, blaming him for having some kind of unethical and manipulative influence on President Obama and polemicist Peter Beinart, among others.

When someone is criticized while that person is alive, he can decide whether or not to respond to such “ad homonym”  personalized attacks.

However, when a person’s integrity is attacked after he dies, that person has to depend on friends or family to preserve his memory and to protect his good name for posterity.

I was a friend of Rabbi Wolf.

As a community organizer of the Alinsky mode, I was appreciative of the advice that he would give, and his unique ability to show respect, even  when we agreed to disagree.

What was never in question, in my mind, was the unquestionable integrity of  Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, and that is what I would like to address in these hours before Shabbat enters our home in Eretz Yisrael.

The following story addresses the intrinsic integrity of Rabbi Wolf.

In February 1977, after four years of activity, the US based organization Breira, chaired by Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf. held its first and only national conference in Washington, DC.

I was witness to the event, convened only one month after Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the US President.

The Israel Labor Party was then in power in Jerusalem.

Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister, Shimon Peres was Defense Minister and Yigal Allon was the Foreign Minister of Israel.

Breira’s platform was to energize Jews in the diaspora to support the creation of a Palestinian Arab state in areas acquired by Israel ten years earlier, after the 1967 war.

Shortly before the Breira conference, Golda Meir, Israel’s previous Labor Party Prime Minister, gave a seminal interview on Israel TV in which she repeated the Labor Party position at the time that there is no such thing as a Palestinian Arab people and she could not understand why and how Jews abroad could think of a Palestinian Arab state..

Yet the momentum of the Breira conference in DC, drawing on more than 100 Jewish communities from around North America, seemed unstoppable.

Using pent up energies from Jewish involvement in the US civil rights movement and the anti Vietnam movement- only two years after the end of the Vietnam war, Breira showed that it was able to mobilize American Jews, and it had the makings of a real grass roots movement that challenged the norms of Israel at the time.

I wrote at the time that the government of Israel should not underestimate the momentum that the idea for a Palestinian Arab state idea was gaining in the Jewish community, and that Israel should prepare itself for unprecedented Jewish pressure to support a Palestinian Arab State initiative , in tandem with a new US Administration that hinted that it would support the idea of a Palestinian Arab state.

Only one month later, President Carter delivered a seminal speech in Clinton, Mass – the first time that a US President endorsed the concept of a Palestinian Arab State.

So what happened to Breira?

Why did Breira not capitalize on such support, after such a grandiose start, especially in light of Carter’s implicit support

I asked that question of Rabbi Wolf, chairman of Breira, a few years after Breira had suddenly impoded.

Rabbi Wolf explained what had transpired.

Rabbi Wolf explained that representatives of the US State Department and the Carter Administration approached him, offering logistical support and funding to Breira, to bolster grass roots Jewish support for a Palestinian Arab state.

Rabbi Wolf explained that such a US government initiative convinced him that he should disband Breira.

Rabbi Wolf explained that while he wanted American Jews to support a Palestinian Arab state, he felt that it would be morally wrong to accept financial and logistical support for this effort from the US government.

The late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Rabbi Wolf’s cousin, then the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, confirmed to me that that the US administration has made these gestures to support Breira, and that he concurred with Rabbi Wolf’s decision to reject American government funding and logistical support.

Rabbi Hertzberg, like Rabbi Wolf, also supported the concept of a Palestinian Arab State, even if the Israeli government did not favor the idea at the time.

However, both Rabbi Hertzberg and Rabbi Wolf felt that it would morally incorrect for an grass roots Jewish effort to be coopted by the American government.

A generation later, the Israeli Knesset Parliament continues to debate legislation that would require registration and monitoring of vast financial support that Diaspora and Israeli political organizations now receive from foreign governments to lobby for a Palestinian Arab state.

Gone is the voice of Rabbi Wolf, supported by Rabbi Hertzberg, who warned of the moral consequences what it  means to receiving funding from a foreign governments… which would coopt a genuine grass roots Jewish  initiative.

The episode described above speaks wonders for the intrinsic integrity of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, who would not compromise on a matter of principle.

About the Author
David Bedein, who grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Israel in 1970 at the age of 20, is an MSW community organizer by profession and an expereinced investigative journalist. In 1987 he established the Israel Resource News Agency, with offices at the Beit Agron Int’l Press Center in Jerusalem, where he also serves as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research. In 1991, Bedein was the special CNN middle east radio correspondent. Since 2001, Bedein has contributed features to the newspaper Makor Rishon. In 2006, Bedein became the foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. He is the author of " The Genesis of the Palestinian Authority" and "ROADBLOCK TO PEACE- How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA policies reconsidered"and the director and producer of the numerous short films about UNRWA policy which can be located at: http://tinyurl.com/lxc6xvs