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Who Speaks for American Jews?

Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring 2001

"'Organizations which present themselves as spokesmen for the American Jewish community are very much in the news, on a variety of issues. Often, they are deeply involved in partisan political activities, rewarding candidates who support their positions and punishing those who do not. More recently, they have made headlines for their advocacy, as in the promotion of a presidential pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich, and their campaign in behalf of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.  

In reviewing the activities of these groups - with regard to their crusades in behalf of the state of Israel, in opposition to religious inter-marriage, in their support for pardoning convicted criminals, and on a host of other subjects - the question arises: for whom, if anyone, do such groups really speak?  

Legitimacy in a Democracy  

In a democratic society, organizations which proclaim themselves the spokesmen for a particular segment of the population, are legitimate only insofar as they actually represent the views of that group. There is an abundance of evidence leading to the conclusion that the vast majority of Americans of the Jewish faith actually hold positions which are at significant variance - if in not diametric opposition - from those which are expressed in their name.  

The militant campaign in behalf of Marc Rich, who in 1983 was charged with an illegal oil pricing scheme that amounted to what may be the biggest tax swindle in U.S. history - together with trading with Iran during the hostage crisis - has brought the unrepresentative nature of advocacy on the part of Jewish organizations to the forefront of attention.  
The e-mail read: "We are reverting to the idea discussed with Abe which is to send DR on a `personal' mission to NO1 with a well-prepared script." ("Abe" was a reference to Foxman, "DR" to Denise Rich and "NO1" was President Clinton)  

Meeting of Foxman and Rich  

We now know that Foxman first met Rich in Zurich, Switzerland in the mid-1980s, shortly after the commodities trader had fled the U.S. Rich claimed he had been "targeted" by federal prosecutors because he was Jewish and that he was therefore a victim of "anti-Semitism." Foxman said he asked Rich to substantiate those charges with documentation - but Rich never did. Foxman, whose organization's ostensible purpose is to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, said he concluded that there was no basis for Rich's charge. Still, an ongoing relationship between Rich and ADL began - and Rich's foundation made a series of grants to the ADL over the years.  

Foxman not only sparked the idea of the pardon campaign, but became an active participant in it. In a letter to President Clinton on December 7, 2000, he urged a pardon for Rich on the grounds that "we are a country that was founded on the belief in second chances."  

Foxman was hardly alone in his embrace of Marc Rich.  

Support for Rich  

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Chair Irving Greenberg wrote a letter to President Clinton on the Holocaust Council's stationery and declared that Rich brought "vision, generosity, a desire to do good, a willingness to take a leadership role."  

Another letter came from Marlene Post, chair of Birthright Israel and former president of Hadassah, who declared: "I feel perfectly comfortable having written the letter."  

Consider the extent of the Rich pardon effort.  

Role of ADL  

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), shortly after receiving a pledge of $100,000 from Rich, met in Paris with Avner Azulay, the head of the Marc Rich foundation, and Zvi Rafiah, an Israeli arms consultant, to discuss ways to resolve Rich's legal problems.  

Newsweek reports that, "It was at that February 2000 meeting at a Paris restaurant that Foxman said he first proposed that Azulay recruit Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, a major contributor to the Democratic Party, to the project. Foxman said it was he - and not Rich aide Azulay - who actually first raised the idea of getting a pardon from President Clinton. `I told them maybe they should consider trying to get a pardon,' Foxman said. `I told them, `Why don't you reach out to Denise Rich ... and have her approach the president and see about a pardon.' That meeting, it is now clear, became the basis for an intriguing e-mail dated March 18, 2000 from Azulay to one of Rich's New York lawyers ... The e-mail was considered significant because it appeared to show that Rich's advocates were plotting a pardon strategy long before they had acknowledged."  

Pressure for the Rich pardon also came from such prominent Israelis as then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, and the former head of Mossad, Shabtai Shavit.  

After fleeing the U.S., Rich became an Israeli citizen and a major benefactor of various organizations. A 1999 profile in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv called Rich "the biggest donor to artistic and cultural institutions" over the past 15 years. Among his contributions was $5 million to Birthright Israel, which has sent 17,000 young American Jews to Israel.  

Clinton Cites Pressure  

As a political firestorm erupted over the Rich pardon, former President Clinton tried to explain himself in an article in The New York Times (Feb. 19, 2001). After enumerating a number of reasons relating to Rich's prosecution, Clinton said: "Finally, and most importantly, many present and former high-ranking Israeli officials of both major political parties, and leaders of Jewish communities in America and Europe, urged the pardon of Mr. Rich because of his contributions and services to Israeli charitable causes, to the Mossad's efforts to rescue and evacuate Jews from hostile countries, and to the peace process through sponsorship of education and health programs in Gaza and the West Bank."  

Clinton himself then became the subject of attack. Ronald Lauder and Malcolm Hoenlein, chairman and executive vice president respectively of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were outraged by the Clinton article and accused him of "scapegoating" Jews.  

Many other voices have been heard which are harshly critical of the machinations in behalf of Marc Rich, both in Israel and the U.S.  

Lacking Political Norms  

Ya'acov Chisdai, an Israeli lawyer and social commentator, wrote in The Jerusalem Post that for Israeli leaders to openly ask for a pardon for Rich showed "how Israel is lacking in political norms of behavior." To indicate the decline in political morality among the Israeli leadership, he drew a comparison with the case of Meyer Lansky, the famed American Jewish gangster who tried to immigrate to Israel in the early 1970s. Lansky's bid for citizenship was rejected by the Israeli government. Chisdai notes that, "If that's how Lansky was treated back then, today, when we are no longer at war for our survival, when we have some international standing and commitments, the question is why should we take assistance from people based on illegal funds, and then get involved in moral obligations to help them? Unfortunately, these are questions that end up having to be addressed by our leaders, without them being subject to any public debate."  

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland declared that, "Mr. Barak and other Israeli leaders seem not to have seriously considered the risks they were taking in joining a partisan effort planned with the care of a covert operation. They set themselves up to serve as an alibi in an American political controversy. Their actions call attention in an unfavorable way to the intimate political connection that exists between Israel and America."  

"Common Values"  

An article in Ha'aretz by Joseph Alpher, reprinted in The Forward, makes the point that Jewish leaders constantly remind Americans that Israel and the U.S. share "common values," but in recent times financial gain rather than honor or integrity seem to be their primary motivation: "Prior to the collective effort to secure a pardon for Mr. Rich was Israel's effort to sell its Phalcon espionage plane to China in total disregard to the protests made by both the Pentagon and Congress. Even Israel`s handling of the current al-Aqsa intifada - especially the economic closure of the territories and the assassination of key Palestinians - is increasingly being regarded in Washington as running counter to those commonly held values. In the background there is, of course, the Pollard affair itself. The fact that both Pollard and Mr. Rich are American Jews could harden attitudes toward Israel even among members of the American Jewish community ... at least among those members of the community who were not themselves dazzled by Mr. Rich's philanthropy."  

Within the Jewish philanthropic world, writes Julia Goldman in The Forward, "...the scandal has caused barely a ripple. When funding executives and lay leaders discuss the case, most appear to be asking why the fugitive philanthropist gave the money, rather than why the organizations took it. For Jewish charities, that question seems to be settled. `The view is that there is no such thing as bad money for a good purpose, provided the money is not used to gain honor,' said Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies."  

Birthright Israel  

Marc Rich's best known beneficiary among American Jews is Birthright Israel, the group that sends young people on free trips to Israel. Michael Steinhardt, who is one of Birthright's founders, said the charges against Rich were "no source of concern." Steinhardt declared: "Marc Rich is a well established Jewish philanthropist and has given to many Jewish causes and I'm pleased he's chosen to give to Birthright."  

Asked whether Birthright would ever decline money from a person deemed unethical or criminal, Shimshon Shoshani, Birthright's chief executive, said: "Of course there are some cases, but in this case it was no case."  

As the details of the Rich case became widely known, a backlash against the conduct of major Jewish organizations has gained momentum.  

Walter Reich, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum from 1995 to 1998 and now professor of international relations at George Washington University, said this of the involvement in the campaign for the Rich pardon of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Chair Irving Greenberg: "Rabbi Greenberg ... traded on, and thereby debased, the sacred trust he held. When he petitioned Clinton to pardon Rich, flattering the leader of the free world by informing him with a pastoral seal of approval, that he, the president, is in a position to `perform one of the most Godlike actions that anyone can ever do,' Greenberg was automatically doing so in the name of the Holocaust ... It was, in a way, as if the six million murdered Jews were beseeching the president, through their official spokesman, Greenberg, to pardon Rich. This exploitation of the Holocaust in support of a billionaire on the lam is a grave cheapening of the Holocaust memory and devaluation of its moral force. The business is rendered more dismaying still in light of reports that Rich gave millions to a charity with which Greenberg is associated."  

Scathing Rebuke  

The leader of the nation's Reform Jewish congregations issued a scathing rebuke of Jews who have been silent on former President Clinton's controversial last-minute pardons, saying the Jewish community's "silence" has been bought with large contributions.  

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said Clinton's pardons of fugitive financier Marc Rich and four Hasidic New York Jews reflected badly on the Jewish community.  

"The moral stain of this sordid affair has begun to engulf us," Yoffie wrote in The Washington and New York Jewish Week newspapers.  

Mr. Clinton pardoned four members of the Hasidic Skverer sect in New Square, New York who had been convicted of embezzling federal money for a fictitious school. The men's attorneys defended their actions, saying the money was not used for personal gain and was funneled into the community. Rabbi Yoffie called the case "a desecration of God`s name. Jews who break the law in God's name and turn Torah into an instrument of thievery are bringing Judaism into disrepute ... However, with the honorable exception of the Orthodox Union's David Luchins, I cannot find a single example of a religious leader who has spoken out publicly ... the Marc Rich pardon is even more distressing ... Why the interest of many Jewish leaders in a man who appears to have traded illegally not only with Iran but with Iraq and Libya, rogue states devoted to Israel's destruction. The answer is simple: They were bought ... One can only marvel at Rabbi Irving Greenberg's statement that he supported the pardon because Rich `did good in a situation where he could not get recognition.` ... Rabbi Greenberg was hardly alone. According to press reports, Ehud Barak called President Clinton twice, Jerusalem's Mayor Ehud Olmert wrote the president, and dozens of Jewish and Israeli philanthropists weighed in with support. There were virtually no voices in the Jewish community that protested the Rich pardon, or our own response to it."  

Prominence for Rich  

Rabbi Yoffie declared that, "I am particularly troubled by the prominence that Mr. Rich was given in the Birthright Israel program and the public support he received from the program's other backers. (Birthright Israel provides free Israel trips to college students and young adults.) What is it that we are trying to teach our idealistic young people? That, no matter what, the super-rich take care of their own? That, for a price, anyone can purchase moral respectability? I am an enthusiastic supporter of Birthright, but I know that the beauty and drama of Israel will not be enough to draw young Jews to our tradition. They will embrace it only if they are exposed to the grandeur of Jewish ethics, and if they see from our teaching and example that Judaism has a great moral purpose. The Clinton pardons presented the Jewish community with an important moral test. We failed. I hope and pray that we will do better next time."  

New York Times columnist William Safire sharply criticized the ADL's Abraham Foxman for his role in promoting the Rich pardon. He pointed out that the ADL's mission "is to fight bigotry," and that, "The last time Foxman muddled it was to write Clinton asking for Jonathan Pollard's release; commission members privately slapped him down because that prosecution had nothing to do with anti-Semitism either. The time is ripe for the ADL - and other do-good advocacy groups, too - to take a hard look at the ulterior motives of their money sources. It's time to set out written policies to resist manipulation by rich sleazebags and to reprimand or fire staff members who do not get with the ethical program."  

Seeds of Fear  

Rather than properly represent the views and interests of its members, the ADL has, critics charge, been guilty of "sowing the seeds of fear." Forward columnist Leonard Fein states that," ... as many organizations of uncertain purpose are wont to, it now sends appeals that are, well, downright embarrassing. Did you know, for example, that `our very existence as Jews is in danger?' You didn't know that? Read your mail. You will also learn that `there is no better way to show how much you care about the survival of the Jewish people than to `accept' the B'nai B'rith Heritage Card that's enclosed with the appeal. Why? Because `in the fight for Jewish continuity, Jewish security and Jewish unity, B'nai B'rith stands alone.' It is `the heartbeat of the Jewish world.` Such nonsense is by no means unique to B'nai B'rith ... the focus on fear does damage to the Jewish psyche, and thereby to the very Jewish continuity it purports to defend."  

In Fein's view, "B'nai B'rith, the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to name but three of the frequent offenders, all know better. They know ... that American Jews are just now in very nearly a golden age ... the overwhelming truth of our time is that we`ve never had it so good, either as individuals or as a community. Perhaps it is possible to attract some, or even many, Jews with talk of imminent crisis, of rampant anti-Semitism and escalating terrorism ... But must our fears and our resentments ... be the basis of our appeal for organizational loyalty? What of the love of learning and of justice, or pride and prayer? What of Judaism's attractions? The `there's an anti-Semite under your bed' school of Jewish fund-raising doesn't make sense even for organizations that specialize in under-the-bed searches, let alone for organizations that (presumably) have a richer and more hopeful agenda."  

Defamation Suit  

The ADL has gone so far in its campaign of "sowing the seeds of fear," that on March 31, in a 460-page decision and memorandum, U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham of Denver upheld most of a $10 million defamation suit against the ADL. The judge lambasted the ADL for labeling a neighborhood feud as an anti-Semitic event. He wrote: "Based on its position and history as a well-respected civil-rights institution, it is not unreasonable to infer that a public charge of anti-Semitism leveled by the ADL will be taken seriously and assumed by many to be true without question. In that respect the ADL is in a unique position of being able to cause substantial harm to individuals when it lends its backing to allegations of anti-Semitism."  

The judge's opinion confirmed a verdict reached last April by a federal grand jury, which essentially accused the Denver chapter of the ADL and its regional representative, Saul Rosenthal, of falsely portraying William and Dorothy Quigley as anti-Semites. "The ADL seized an opportunity to aggrandize itself as the defender of the Jews by unjustly accusing a middle-class couple of being anti-semitic crooks," said Jay Horowitz, the Quigley's attorney. "And all along they showed an unbelievable arrogance ... Can you imagine an organization using money from Marc Rich, who made millions dealing with anti-Semitic countries like Iran, attacking powerless people for some alleged anti-Semitic slurs?"  

No Investigation  

Judge Nottingham pointed to evidence that the ADL had not bothered to investigate in-depth before publicly leveling charges of anti-Semitism. The judge cited an internal ADL memorandum written by Mr. Rosenthal in January 1995, in which the official said he wanted "to be sure we are maximizing opportunities that are available from the ... case ... In short, `make hay while the sun shines'..."  

A monograph on the subject of ethical fund-raising was issued in January by CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. The monograph was "pre-Rich," said Rabbi Irwin Kula, CLAL`s president. The paper urges readers to "be honest about the degree to which our own livelihoods and our organizations' viability depend upon the structures of morally ambiguous power and privilege that constitute the larger social system in which we participate."  

In Rabbi Kula's view, the exceptional affluence in today's American Jewish community, combined with fierce competition among philanthropies for Jewish dollars, "ratchets up all questions of ethics."  

Soul Searching  

Rabbi Kula later wrote that, "With hope, the Rich affair will compel us to do a cheshbon hanefesh (soul searching), both as Americans and as Jews, about the role money has come to play in our civic and communal life ... We as a community have become enmeshed in a system in which exaggerated obeisance is paid to people of wealth ... the wealthiest have achieved a cultural and political influence that undermines the democratic principles of our civic and communal life. Not surprisingly, more and more Americans feel that money is distorting the democratic process. In the Jewish community, a similar dynamic has arisen. Increasingly fierce competition among not-for-profit organizations for philanthropic dollars has created a toxic mix of resentment, envy, humiliation and mistrust among major philanthropists, communal professionals, small contributors and the Jewish masses. Recently some major philanthropists have decided to go it alone and circumvent communal bodies in deciding where to allocate their funds. This is a reflection of American individualism and the understandable impatience these philanthropist have with the often-tedious processes of communal building and decision making. All this leads to a situation in which communal processes are being distorted and more Jews are feeling that their voices do not matter."  

Charging "Anti-Semitism"  

The familiar tactic of charging "anti-Semitism" when the machinations of established Jewish organizations are challenged is coming under increasing scrutiny and attack. When the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations accused former President Clinton of "scapegoating" Jews by pointing to the pressure placed upon him for the Marc Rich pardon, they were sharply criticized. Margin Begun, the head of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, for example, told the New York Observer: "For Jewish leaders to blame President Clinton for their behavior is outrageous. If Clinton used poor judgment, that's one thing - but for them to apply pressure on him and then blame him for anti-Semitic behavior is a baffling twist of logic. The poor man was pressured to death."  

Beyond all of this is the fact that the positions taken by major Jewish organizations are often unrepresentative of the views of those in whose name they speak.  

This is particularly true of the two major crusades upon which such groups have now embarked - a circling of the wagons in support of Ariel Sharon's government in Israel and a campaign for Jewish "continuity" in the United States. The latter involves sending young people on free trips to Israel through the Birthright Israel program and launching a campaign against religious intermarriage.  

At Variance with the Majority  

In both of these areas, the interests and views of Jewish organizations and self-proclaimed "leaders" appear to be at variance with the views of the vast majority of Americans of Jewish faith.  

In fact, in the wake of Arid Sharon's election as prime minister of Israel and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East, what is really evident is not the degree of unity but the sharp division among American Jews.  

On the one hand, leading Jewish organizations have been formulating a nationwide network to better promote pro-Israel messages throughout the country. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, states that, "Every morning a message goes out and every Palestinian has the right message," when he or she talks to CNN or newspapers. Hoenlein envisions a new network as a counterpoint to that and suggests daily e-mail alerts and the posting of extensive information on the Internet as two of a number of ideas to improve advocacy for Israel in the media and elsewhere.  

A new think tank, Emet (the Hebrew word for truth) has been established by activists Leonard Abramson, Michael Steinhardt and World Jewish Congress president Edgar Bronfman. The group's goal is to present the Israeli govern-ment`s position on Middle East developments.  

Poaching on Israeli Government  

In Israel, however, there is concern that these American Jewish supporters of the Sharon government are poaching on the role of the Israeli government itself, and Israel`s peace camp is worried that hawkish American Jews will use Emet to push a hard-line to the peace process.  

The nation's leading pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has made it uncomfortable for those who advocate a peace process of compromise and conciliation with the Palestinians.  

When Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) addressed AIPAC after Sharon's ascent to power, he received a cool response when he defended the peace process. The Forward (March 23, 2001) reported that, "Mr. Lieberman, a longtime stalwart in AIPAC's pro-Israel cause ... devoted much of his speech to an emotional defense of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he said remained vital despite the violence in the region. `I wish the year 2000 had ended not with an intifada, but with the signing of final status agreements,' he said, to thunderous silence. The silence continued for minutes on end, as the senator explained the value of the Oslo accords, insisted that peace was in America's best interest as well as Israel's and called for the Bush administration not to `walk away' from its `responsibility' as an active mediator. By the time he ended his speech with a quote from Zionist legend Theodor Herzl - 'If you will it,' he said, referring to Israeli-Palestinian peace, `it is no fantasy' - the crowd was visibly distressed. Individuals around the hall could be heard coughing, seemingly restraining the impulse to jeer."  

AIPAC's Posture  

The Forward provided this assessment of AIPAC's posture: "AIPAC is theoretically an extension of the national Jewish organizational community, and exists to lobby for American Jews' consensus views on Israel. Political insiders have long considered that a polite fiction, covering the lobby's true role as a voice of the Israeli government ... Cynics say it is now the love of the fight that drives AIPAC's top leaders. In this view, nothing frightens the lobby as much as a world at peace, in which Israel is no longer threatened and AIPAC`s services are no longer needed. That view of the lobby is too harsh ... This week, though, it was hard not to think in those terms, as hundreds of the organization's top activists gathered in high spirits to welcome the triumph of Ariel Sharon, the collapse of the peace process and the rebirth of fortress Israel. Israelis may be despondent over the escalating violence ... Not so Israel's friends in Washington ... It is right for Jews to spring to Israel's defense. It is wrong to so revel in the fight that one regrets the very prospect of peace."  

The alleged "unity" of American Jews in support of the posture of the Sharon government is, of course, a myth. Early in March, some 100 rabbis signed a letter to Prime Minister Sharon and President George W. Bush, calling on Sharon not to take steps to expand Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and on Bush "to vigorously express American opposition to such unilateral steps." Professor Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, under whose auspices the letter was sent, says, "The rabbis' letter raises the fundamental question: Does Sharon, in his pursuit of an interim agreement, mean a timeout on the final status issues, or does he want to stop talking about them, while attempting unilaterally to foreclose the possibility of an interim agreement on shared sovereignty in Jerusalem through construction?"  

Divided Jerusalem  

The Israeli newspaper Ha`aretz reports that, "Thirty-five percent of American Jews are willing to see Jerusalem divided in order to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to a survey conducted in January and February on behalf of a joint committee representing five of the largest Jewish organizations in the United States. Chairing the committee is Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Committee representatives ... refused to comment on the survey. Senior Jewish community leaders in New York said the survey results contradict the official position of the Presidents Conference, which asserts that the Jewish community is united in refusal to consider concessions over Jerusalem. The survey, described as one of the most extensive of American Jewish opinion in recent years, also showed that more than 50 percent said they support the peace process..."  

Discussing those who proclaim Jewish "unity" with regard to events in the Middle East, columnist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writing in Moment (June 2001) provides this analysis: "Unity. You hear the word everywhere. Because of the Palestinian Intifada and international condemnation of Israel`s military response, all Jews are supposed to present a united front, rally around, and stifle our famously contentious differences in the interest of solidarity. But one person's solidarity is another person's suppression."  

Amity Rather Than Unity  

In Pogrebin's view, the expression of a variety of views about the best path to achieve Middle east peace, even if it means sharply challenging the Israeli government's policies, "...doesn't add up to unity. But neither does it add up to tragedy. And it certainly doesn't require our leaders to sell solidarity as if it were snake oil. Or demand silence as the price of admission to the Jewish people, as Elie Wiesel did at AIPAC's spring conference. Astonishingly, the Holocaust icon publicly defamed Jews who take issue with Israeli government policy, characterizing it as `anti-Semitism in Jewish leftist circles.' ... The charge of `anti-Semitism' against Jews is nothing short of shocking coming from the man who, of all people, ought to know the difference between Jew-hating and honest political dissent ... Coerced unity, like counterfeit money, cannot be the currency of a mature society. It's time to retire the phony rhetoric and face the facts ... there has always been passionate disputation in Jewish life, and true to form, right now, Jews are not of one mind about almost anything ... Not only are we not united but, barring a genocidal threat, we probably never will be, which is arguably a healthy trait. Instead of trying to ram unity down our throats, Jewish leaders would be wiser to mount a campaign for amity ... selling respect for difference, delight in diversity ... If we could only unite around that."  

Israel Is Peripheral  

While Jewish organizations place Israel at the "center" of their agenda, for the vast majority of American Jews Israel remains a largely peripheral interest.  

In the study, The Jew Within: Self, Family and Community In America (Indiana University Press), authors, Steven N. Cohen, associate professor at the Melton School for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Arnold M. Eisen, professor of religious studies at Stanford University, explored the foundations of belief and behavior among moderately affiliated American Jews.  

The authors report that, "Their connection to Israel ... is weak, as is the connection they feel to the organized Jewish community in America. They take for granted the compatibility of being both Jewish and American; this is simply not an issue anymore ... They want to be Jewish because of what it means to them personally - not because of obligation to the Jewish group ... or the historical destiny of the Jewish group..."  

When asked about their emotional attachment to Israel, just nine percent of respondents answered "extremely attached" (as opposed to 13 percent in a similar survey in 1988). Only 20 percent in the survey thought it was essential for a good Jew to support Israel and even fewer (18 percent) had similar views with regard to visiting Israel in the course of one`s life.  

Israel Not Central  

Professors Cohen and Eisen stress that, "It is no longer uncommon to find lukewarm-to-cool attitudes to Israel coexisting with warm-to-passionate feelings about being Jewish ... Israel is not central to who American Jews are as Jews - and so the need to visit it, or learn about it, or wrestle with its importance to the Jewish people, is far from pressing."  

If Jewish organizations are misrepresenting the views of those in whose name they speak when it comes to Israel and the Middle East, the same is true in the case of the recently launched crusade against religious intermarriage. In October, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) released the results of a survey in which it found that most American Jews accept marriage between Jews and non-Jews.  

In the survey, a majority of respondents said they did not oppose interfaith marriage. Forty percent said they were neutral about such unions, and 16 percent said they regarded interfaith marriage as "a positive good." Only 12 percent said they strongly disapproved of interfaith marriages.  

Opposing Intermarriage is "Racist"  

In a further measure of opinions on the issue, 56 percent said they disagreed with the statement, "It mould pain me if my child married a Gentile," and 80 percent said they agreed that "intermarriage is inevitable in an open society." Fifty percent said it was "racist" to oppose marriages between Jews and non-Jews. Fewer than one in four respondents said a rabbi should refuse to officiate at such marriages."  

The AJC's David Singer said that, "If you look at the data in realistic terms, those people who see mixed marriages as a threat to Jewish continuity and want to maintain the traditional battle against intermarriage, clearly have an uphill fight."  

It took only a few months, however, before the American Jewish Committee launched a campaign to change the increasingly tolerant attitudes of its own members. Stephen Bayme, director of the AJC's contemporary Jewish life department, said he was stunned at how "benignly" Jews had accepted co-officiation with non-Jewish clergy at wedding ceremonies, which he said indicated a "collapse of norms in the Jewish community." His goal, he declared, is "to guide the climate of opinion" on the importance of marrying within the Jewish faith.  

No Commitment to Endogamy  

This position has been repudiated by the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans. Professors Cohen and Eisen found that "virtually none of our respondents articulated an unambiguous commitment to endogamy. That had been their parents' Jewish way, one which they have decisively rejected. Our respondents' range of views regarding intermarriage stands in contrast with their parents' largely unequivocal opposition ... Even here, because we intentionally limited our sample almost entirely to moderately affiliated Jews, the spectrum of views on this matter is somewhat narrower than we would observe in a study of American Jewry as a whole."  

Peter H. Schweitzer, a long-time AJC supporter and the great-grandson of its early leader, Louis Marshall, says that he is "pained" by the AJC's campaign against intermarriage:  

"The AJC has expressed great disregard for the majority of its members who have shown their responsible tolerance of intermarriage. By launching its `Jews should marry Jews' drive, the leaders of AJC have ignored the voice of its membership and, moreover, have missed an opportunity to reach out to intermarried couples, who, in effect, they condemn instead ... Louis Marshall defended and championed the rights of all minorities ... It is time to show the same respect and tolerance to those Jews who intermarry, including some of Marshall's own descendants ... Intermarriage is not a curse. It can be a wonderful thing for many people and their families. In the congregation to which I belong, we do not shun these families or make them pass any litmus tests. Rather, we greet them with open arms ... For us, the higher value is inclusiveness and respect, not chauvinism and bigotry."  

No "Unified" Opinion  

It is clear that national Jewish organizations which make pronouncements on behalf of Israel, in opposition to intermarriage and a host of other subjects do not speak for the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans. Unfortunately, such groups persist in pretending that Jewish opinion is "unified" and go to great lengths to silence those who would disagree, as with Elie Wiesel's talk this spring to the AIPAC meeting at which he referred to those Jews who were critical of Israel and, in particular, its treatment of Palestinians, as "self-hating Jews."  

Double standards abound in the positions advanced by many Jewish or organizations. They support a complete separation of church and state in the United States, going so far as to pursue legal action against moments of silence and voluntary non- sectarian prayer in public schools. Yet they support theocracy in Israel and a situation in which Reform and Conservative Judaism have no legal standing. Are they for religious freedom in principle, or only in societies in which they perceive themselves as a minority? They promote "diversity" in every aspect of the American society, yet reject diversity within their own organizations and insist on promoting a false "unity" where none exists. The list of such inconsistent and often hypocritical positions is a long one.  

Silent Jewish Majority  

There is a silent Jewish majority which is not represented by the established Jewish organizations which speak in their name. To the question, "Who speaks for American Jews?" one certain answer is that those who claim to do so may be farthest from expressing the real views and values of American Jews, the majority of whom seem to favor positions which are at variance with those promoted in their name.  

Judaism is a religion of universal values. The Jewish idea of God and of morals and ethics represents one of the great advances in human history. Other monotheistic religions - Christianity and Islam - emerged from Jewish roots. To transform Judaism into a political pressure group in behalf of one or another partisan cause or special interest is to empty it of its larger meaning. To believe that its future will be preserved by reverting to tribalism and self-segregation is to reject its broader philosophy and hopes for the future of all humanity. The greatest threat to Judaism, in the end, may be from the very groups and self-proclaimed "leaders" who persist in narrowing and trivializing it to the degree that idealistic men and women will look elsewhere for their moral grounding and their spiritual needs.  

There is a silent Jewish majority which is not represented by the established Jewish organizations which speak in their name. To the question, "Who speaks for American Jews?" one certain answer is that those who claim to do so may be farthest from expressing the real views and values of American Jews, the majority of whom seem to favor positions which are at variance with those promoted in their name.  

Judaism is a religion of universal values. The Jewish idea of God and of morals and ethics represents one of the great advances in human history. Other monotheistic religions - Christianity and Islam - emerged from Jewish roots. To transform Judaism into a political pressure group in behalf of one or another partisan cause or special interest is to empty it of its larger meaning. To believe that its future will be preserved by reverting to tribalism and self-segregation is to reject its broader philosophy and hopes for the future of all humanity. The greatest threat to Judaism, in the end, may be from the very groups and self-proclaimed "leaders" who persist in narrowing and trivializing it to the degree that idealistic men and women will look elsewhere for their moral grounding and their spiritual needs.

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.