October 12, 2006

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
Zionism is not racism -- unless...

Interesting/sad/odd story in the NY Jewish week:

Center-Right Groups Outraged At Post-War Money To Arabs

UJC defends funding to Israeli Arabs as part of northern recovery.

Stewart Ain - Staff Writer

A broad swath of center-right American Jewish groups is expressing shock and outrage that millions of dollars being raised by Jewish federations in North America for the post-war recovery effort in Israel is being used in part to help Israeli Arabs.

The story doesn't at all support the headline -- the only clearly "outraged" group is
Americans for a Safe Israel, and I would love to see some indication of just how many members or supporters this reliably rejectionist group really has. And what exactly is "center-right"? If AFSI, National Council of Young Israel, and ZOA are the center, how are we defining "right" these days? What it should more a accuately say is, "right-wing and Orthodox groups."

But while the other groups contacted by the JW aren't necessarily "shocked" and "outraged," they are -- disappointed. An OU spokeseman says he thought the intention was to “raise money to help Jews in need” and that the money "would not go to an Arab village or town to give services." (He's okay with money that would go to Jews who happen to live in Haifa. "We should not discriminate," he says.) The president of the National Council of Young Israel says, "It’s not that I want to seem harsh or that this is an anti-Arab statement, but money raised from Jews because of a war against Jews should only be used for Jews.”

Morton Klein of the ZOA says this:

“The people I know who give large sums to the [Jewish] federation would only want their money to go to Israeli Jews,” Klein said. “I believe it is inappropriate for the federation to be directing money to non-Jews without their donors’ knowing.”

The key to that sentence is "the people I know". Not exactly a scientific or representative cohort, considering the source.

But Klein does ask an interesting question here , about donor intent. Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism puts it this way:

“Perhaps the UJC should have been more open about it,” he said. “I would still have given them the money, but it may have given people who didn’t agree with the decision [to help Israeli Arabs] an opportunity to say I will not support it.”

Which strikes me as fair -- if your campaign says "Help Israel's citizens" I would assume that includes Jews and Arabs." If it says, "Help Israel's Jews" and some money ends up with Arabs, that's a different story. I might have asked the reporter to go back and look at the fundraising literature to see how the emergency campaign was sold. (The UJC Web site, "as of 10/6," says the emergency campaign "helps these the most vulnerable Israeli citizens in the north -- Jews, Arabs and Druze alike." Was this added after they heard from the JW? The Web site of the UJC MetroWest, which has definitely not been updated, speaks of Israel's "citizens," not its Jews.). I'd also have him ask about the history of the Jewish Agency (i.e. federation) funding for Israeli Arab needs. If it is standard practice for JAFI to help Israeli Arabs, what's the tzimmes?

Then there is a weird back and forth about how much money we're talking about.

[Helen] Freedman (of AFSI) said figures supplied by the UJC indicate that fully one-third of the money the UJC has collected is designated for Israeli Arabs. But Howard Rieger, the UJC’s president and CEO, said the “figure is on the order of 3 percent.”

When pressed, Freedman backed off the one-third figure. “But it sure doesn’t come out to 3 percent,” she insisted.

Rieger, when asked for a breakdown of the money, said that of the $92 million spent to date from the Israel Emergency Campaign, a total of $9 million, or some 10 percent, “went to [Israeli] Arabs.” He said the campaign has thus far raised $329 million in pledges, and defended the decision to use the money to help Israeli Arabs and Druze.

Okay, not 3%, not 1/3, but 10 percent. Almost all of the people reacting in the story first heard about it from the reporter. What figure did he use? Or did he merely ask "Would you object to any money going to Israeli Arabs?" It's not clear.

Of course, the objections of these "center-right" groups is obscene; how obscene is put into context by this quote from Howard Reiger, head of the UJC:

“About one-third to one-half of those killed [by Hezbollah rockets] were Israeli Arabs, as well as Druze who serve in the Israel Defense Forces and died in the IDF,” he said. “We were getting kids out of harm’s way [in the north], and we think it is a fair and valid use of the funds” to help Israeli Jewish and Arab youngsters.

You'd have to be pretty heartless to resist an appeal like that. You'd have to be -- well, Morton Klein:

“In my 13 years of speaking around the country, I regularly hear concerns about Israeli Arabs not being committed to Israel as a Jewish state, and whether this could undermine and endanger Israel from within.”

Which "country" is he talking about? If it's America, which is what it appears from the context (how often is he asked to speak in Israel?), then what he is saying is that if a Jewish car dealer in Lansing thinks Israeli Arabs are disloyal, then we must take his analysis seriously.

So what's the real story here? Instead of taking the question to reliable critics, why not interview a "broad swath" of AMERICAN JEWRY. Interview Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union of Reform Judaism, representing the country's largest synagogue movement, or the head of the JCPA, representing America's network of CRC's. Michael Lerner probably has more of a following than Helen Freedman. And you can ask federation directors in large cities, perhaps comparing right-leaning NY with more liberal communities like SF or Boston. Then you would have a story like this:

Mainstream groups debate Post-War Money To Arabs

Right thinks only Jews deserve emergency funds; left and center groups say support is sign of Israel's humanity

A broad swath of American Jewish groups are expressing admiration that millions of dollars being raised by Jewish federations in North America for the post-war recovery effort in Israel is being used in part to help Israeli Arabs.

Some right-wing and Orthodox groups, however, say the money should only go to Jews, while even supporters of the funding say the UJC should make clear to its donors that it is committed to all of Israel's citizens, Jewish, Arab and Druze alike.

Some bloggers are bound to say the story reflects a right-wing bias on the JW's part; I don't think so. I think it is a journalistic bias for conflict, for juicy oppositional quotes, for controversy. I don't blame them. And to the degree that it exposes the heartlessness of certain Jewish leaders -- or a parochialism that borders on heartlessness, or a mindset that can't possibly be good for the Jews (you can summarize their objections as "Zionism isn't racism; American support for Israel is another story"), the story actually provides a public service.

But you have to wade through a lot of static to get there.

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