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American Jewish Organizations Don’t Speak for Most American Jews, Says Forward Columnist

Allan C. Brownfeld
Special Interest Report
December 2011

American Jewish organizations, which tend to support whatever policies the Israeli government promotes, “do not speak for most American Jews,” declares Jay Michaelson, a columnist for The Forward (Oct. 1, 2001).  
There is, he argues, a “peculiar dynamic” in American Jewish institutions: “These institutions are inherently to the right of most American Jews. People who, facing a wide range of philanthropic options, choose to devote considerable resources to Judaism and to Israel fund them. This is laudable. But it also selects for those philanthropists who tend toward more nationalistic and particularistic points of view. Nonparticularistic Jews give more to non-Jewish causes. Jewish particularists fund Jewish causes.”  
In Michaelson’s view, “In general, American Jews are more liberal than their communal institutions, because the institutions are funded and populated by people who have chosen to make Judaism their professional or philanthropic priority ... Most progressives have less interest in Jewish particularism, and are more likely to be found at The New Yorker or Amnesty International than at specifically Jewish institutions. ... Because of this ‘liberal drain,’ what’s left in our Jewish communal institutions tends naturally to the right.”  
The views perpetuated by much of the Jewish establishment, Michaelson believes, are “bad for both America and Israel.” He writes: “I think they are self-fulfilling: Treat others as enemies and they will be your enemies. This has now come to pass in Israel, as its ostensible partner has given up on the peace process (which has been neither peaceful nor a process) and gone to the U.N. instead ... The Palestinians did so because Netanyahu’s negotiating/delaying tactics left them no other viable option.”  
Michaelson concludes: “These are my views, but I don’t pretend that they are somehow ‘the truth,’ or part of some great new understanding of the Middle East. They are garden-variety American liberalism, based on fundamental premises about universalism, rationalism and conflict resolution. Nor do I think that conservatives have somehow missed the point of the Jewish prophetic tradition.. Conservatives have their texts, and we liberals have ours. I think they are wrong on both facts and values. But there shouldn’t be any mystery here as to why we all think this way. The only mystery is why there’s a mystery at all.” •  

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