Author: JCRC

The Question I Had at AIPAC

What resonated most for me about this week’s AIPAC’s Policy Conference?

I could tell you about the energy I felt when I participated in lobbying meetings with a half-dozen members of Congress; engaging in rolling and elucidating conversations about the U.S.-Israel relationship and listening to their vigorous denunciation of BDS or Iranian efforts to export terror around the region. I could tell you about the more intimate conversations during an evening reception with the many candidates who took the time to fly in to meet and build relationships with activists and reaffirm the importance so many of us place on Israel’s security.

Meeting with Congressman Moulton (sixth from right), Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem (on left) and North Shore AIPAC leaders

But what’s stayed on my mind is a question I was asked several times by those present and those following from afar: Given our vigorous expressions of concern about the unique challenge that President Trump’s administration poses to our nation’s democratic norms and institutions, what it was like to be in a room where key members of the Trump administration were greeted with warmth and applause (by at least part of the audience)?

It might surprise you to know that I was inspired to be in a room with many Trump supporters, and I came away from the experience feeling more hopeful.

What I kept noting this week was the wild diversity of participants, speakers, and issues discussed. Yes, the audience skews politically conservative and toward the Orthodox, though I also had great conversations with delegations and rabbis from many of Boston’s most prominent Conservative and Reform congregations. But the progressive focused sessions are also drawing crowds, the LGBTQ party has become a significant event, and I now see an increasing number of non-Jewish liberal civic leaders showing up to lobby. For all that I and others in the room are repelled by Vice President Pence’s embrace of and praise for President Trump as well as his own views on a host of social issues, I was also energized by the voices of those like Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) or our own former Governor Deval Patrick on the main-stage; in his case to introduce the inspiring Ohad Elhelo, founder of Our Generation Speaks, who spoke passionately about the work of young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs coming together to work for a better future and an end to the conflict.

With (from left) Rabbi Jonah Pesner, former Governor Deval Patrick, and JCRC Board Member Alex Goldstein

In panel after panel I heard distinguished commentators rail against the worst characteristics of the Trump administration. Israelis talked openly about the need to end the relationship of Occupation with the Palestinians, criticizing the settlements, or grappling with other dilemmas that Israel faces. I’m sure that others were challenged by these voices, as I was by some of those I heard. If I had one criticism of the program – and I’ve shared this with AIPAC staff – it would be that I wish more sessions were open to the press. Then maybe the public would have a better sense of the varied conversations spread across the spectrum that actually go on throughout these days.

And in that diversity lies an essential point. AIPAC is the coming together of people who don’t sit together in other places, who have deep disagreements that are named openly in various rooms, but who share a core commitment around one issue even as they represent different approaches on so much else.

Coming together requires compromise: I accept that this won’t be the organization that will advocate for all aspects of our aspirations for Israel’s future. There was no main stage call to action to help Israel to address the dilemma of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers humanely. There are other Jewish spaces to do that work (including here at JCRC).

There was no shared analysis about how to support coexistence and peace building work between Israelis and Palestinians – though there was a resounding challenge from AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr that the absence of a peace process was “nothing to celebrate” and that, “We must all work toward that future: two states for two peoples. One Jewish with secure and defensible borders, and one Palestinian with its own flag and its own future.”

What defines the AIPAC experience is powerful, and unique in Washington. It is an explicit and implicit willingness to say, “that which we disagree on will not divide us when we need our collective efforts to achieve what unites us: Israel’s security.” AIPAC, when at its best, embodies a commitment to civility, and even curiosity and learning. My proudly sporting a Wider Bridge rainbow-flag/Israeli-flag pin invited more conversations about LGBTQ inclusion and Jewish life from folks new to my perspective than I am ever going to encounter in a liberal synagogue here at home.

So, for me the question is not “can AIPAC survive in this fractured partisan political era?” The question is “how can we learn from AIPAC’s model to create more spaces in which thousands of people can come together despite our differences, work together on what we agree on, and learn from each other where we don’t?” Because if we figure out how to do that more often, which I believe we can, then I have even more hope for our future.

Shabbat Shalom,


JCRC is Deeply Disappointed by Decision to Refer S.1689/H.1685 “To Study”

JCRC is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Massachusetts Legislature’s State Administration and Regulatory Oversight (SARO) Committee to refer S.1689/H.1685 “to study.” This bipartisan legislation, An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts, is intended to ensure that those seeking to do business with the state affirm that they are in compliance with all Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws and that they do not refuse to do business with others based on immutable characteristics such as race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Much of the debate around this bill has taken place in the shadow of a national and state-by-state debate over so-called “anti-BDS” bills. Such bills are a vehicle for states to reject efforts to deny Israel’s right to exist. This noxious campaign uses economic, cultural, and academic warfare in an attempt to isolate Israelis and challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Even as JCRC supports efforts to reject the unjust assault on Israel’s legitimacy, we take note and emphasize again that the bill, as filed here in Massachusetts, does not shut down all boycott activity. Still, we understand from our allies that the national debate on this matter, along with a recent federal court ruling in Kansas, has had a chilling effect on the ability of people here in Massachusetts to consider this bill based on its face-value merits and impact.

S.1689/H.1685 merely allows the state to choose business partners who are in line with its own values. While opponents of the bill are entitled to their own views and are free to engage in boycotts based on national origin, race, or sexual orientation, the state, when acting as a market participant, does not have to subsidize those views. The Commonwealth is free to use its economic influence to send a message of its own disagreement. The so-called Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign, when applied to Israeli nationals based solely on their national origin, is illustrative of the danger that groups can cloak themselves in the guise of a political boycott to unfairly target others simply based on who they are.

We take note that only days ago New York Governor Cuomo announced an executive order, largely paralleling the language of the Massachusetts bill, to prevent New York state from doing business with companies that promote or tolerate discrimination based on immutable characteristics. That order was embraced by many of the same actors who have opposed the Massachusetts bill. It does not escape our attention that some of the same people who vigorously urge government action to protect individuals based on immutable characteristics when those individuals are transgender (a view that we affirmatively support) are so vigorously opposed to the same action when some of those - such as us - promoting it are expressly concerned about discrimination against Israeli-Americans. We are left, once again, to wonder why an incremental step to fight discrimination in all its forms should draw such vociferous opposition by some on the radical fringe here in our Commonwealth.

Over the past two years, legislatures around the country and the world have taken up a range of approaches for rejecting BDS and those who wish to engage in discriminatory economic warfare against Israelis and Israeli-Americans.  JCRC again applauds the Massachusetts legislature for their unanimous expression, in October 2015, for the U.S.-Israel relationship and also for their rejection at that time of this campaign of delegitimization. That action, along with numerous others over the past several years, convey a clear message of support from our legislative leadership and reflects a deep bipartisan coalition in both houses. Our legislators have stated with one voice that effective engagement is the key to positive outcomes in the region.

At this time we want to particularly thank Senator Cynthia Creem and Representatives Paul McMurtry and Steven Howitt for their leadership in sponsoring S.1689/H.1685, as well as Senate Committee Chairman Walter Timilty, the many co-sponsors including nearly one-third of the legislature, and the members of the coalition in support of this bill. Despite the noise and the mischaracterizations, these individuals stood steadfast in support of the notion that the Commonwealth should reject discriminatory conduct in all its forms. To them, we are grateful.


JCRC Joins JCPA In Urging Israel to Suspend Plan to Deport Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum-Seekers

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston echoes and shares the sentiments expressed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the national network of JCRCs, in this statement today. We join the JCPA in urging Israel to suspend the plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers:

New York, NY – In response to the Government of Israel’s recent announcement that there are plans underway to deport the approximately 35,000 – 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers living in Israel to several African governments, including Uganda and Rwanda, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) issued the following statement:

“JCPA recognizes Israel’s distinguished record of opening its doors to non-Jewish victims of genocide and human rights abuses, as it did with the Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s, and those from the Balkans decades later. JCPA fully acknowledges Israel’s security concerns, and commends Israel’s efforts to secure its borders, which has significantly reduced rampant human trafficking and unauthorized immigration.  We urge the Government of Israel to balance such concerns with its historic commitment to welcoming the stranger and protecting refugees.

“We urge the government to suspend its plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who entered the country between 2007-12, and develop a comprehensive policy for non-Jewish asylum-seekers that safeguards human dignity and human rights, in compliance with Israel’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. We believe that such a policy would ensure Israel’s security, and honor Israel’s values as a compassionate, Jewish and democratic state.

“We ask that a refugee and asylum policy include a transparent and efficient system for processing asylum applications so that claims are resolved in a fair and timely manner. Applicants should receive a temporary status that ensures basic safety, stability, and dignity, including the ability to work legally and gainfully. The government should establish minimum standard for education, health, and welfare services. We also request that any resettlement to third countries should only involve those nations where asylum-seekers will be treated with dignity and guaranteed status and safety pursuant to international conventions.”

MBR and JCRC Respond to Hate Speech and Misinformation Campaign

We, the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis (MBR) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, condemn in the strongest terms the recent attacks on our colleague and former MBR President, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, by Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) and its director, Charles Jacobs. This group, whose Orwellian name belies their relentless defamation of Boston-area Muslims along with respected leaders in the Greater Boston Jewish community, has used the most tendentious of arguments to suggest that Rabbi Jaffe is somehow linked to terrorism and Islamic extremism. We are hesitant to even dignify this claim with a response, but the honor of our colleague and our community moves us to issue this statement. Jacobs used a picture of Rabbi Jaffe under the heading, “No one else unmasks clergy who seek to do us harm,” as part of a recent fundraising campaign, the clear implication being that one of the most respected leaders of the Greater Boston community is somehow in league with enemies of the Jewish people.

Despite their claims to be standing up to extremism, Charles Jacobs and APT are the true face of extremism in our community: purveyors of hatred and division, they engage in outrageous attacks on communal institutions and individuals involved in the important work of building relationships among Boston-area Muslims and Jews. They have targeted respected rabbis in our community as well as leaders of our communal institutions, including the Jewish Community Relations Council and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Their attacks on Rabbi Jaffe and his congregation are just the latest salvos in an ongoing campaign of misinformation and innuendo meant to spread discord and fear. Not content to simply publish his opinions, Jacobs and APT members gained access to members’ emails in Rabbi Jaffe’s congregation, and subjected both congregants and staff to an onslaught of vile and threatening calls and emails. There is no place in our community for this kind of verbal violence. We call on all Jewish communal news organizations—including The Jewish Advocate and the Times of Israel—to refuse to carry Charles Jacobs’ writings unless and until he ceases his defamation of respected Jewish communal leaders and vicious anti-Muslim propaganda.

Statement from JCRC of Greater Boston Regarding the Status of Jerusalem

President Trump announced today that the United States government recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It has long been JCRC’s view that the failure by the nations of the world, including the United States, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a historic injustice. Since 1949, when Israel established its capital in those parts of West Jerusalem under its sovereignty, the nations of the world have refused to recognize it. This refusal has singled out Israel amongst all nations, denying Israel the right that every other sovereign nation has to determine the location of its own capital within its sovereign territory. JCRC welcomes progress towards removing this injustice.

And yet, at this moment of pride and joy for so much of our community, we must also acknowledge that many in our community have raised questions and concerns about the timing of this announcement. We support a two-state solution, directly negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians. We are concerned that today’s action could potentially damage the prospects for achieving — and diminish the ability of the United States to act effectively as a facilitator of — the peace that we all desire. The path to peace is challenging. We have no crystal ball that tells us which steps complicate or smooth the way forward.

We hope that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will act in the best interest of their people and take meaningful steps to ease tensions and advance the cause of peace. We reaffirm our own commitment to support efforts that hasten the realization of peace, security, and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians.

CJP, JCRC Statement on the Murder of Sgt. Ron Yitzhak Kokia

We join with our brothers and sisters in Israel in mourning Sgt. Ron Yitzhak Kokia (z”l), 19, stabbed to death by a terrorist while waiting for a bus in Arad last night. Ron, a native of Tel Aviv, served in the Nahal Brigade, a unit based outside the southern Israeli city where he was murdered.

The assailant remains at large, with a widespread manhunt continuing in Israel today. We pray for a time when the people of Israel can live in peace and security. Our hearts go out to Ron’s family, his friends, and the many people who mourn him today. May they find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.