Tag Archives: Israel

Why we won’t be making a statement this Wednesday

This coming Tuesday, April 9th, the citizens of Israel will go to the polls to elect their parliament. By late afternoon EDT, we’ll have a sense of the outcome – which, of some 40 parties on the ballot, will be represented in the 21st Knesset and, within a seat or two, how many seats in the 120-member body each party will hold.

As in the past, we can expect to wake up on Wednesday to at least some media declarations about who won the elections. But seasoned observers of Israel’s electoral process know that, barring a blowout not forecast in any of the polls, congratulating a winner next week would be a foolish mistake.

We recall 2009, when Tzipi Livni led Kadima to a 28-seat plurality, but Benjamin Netanyahu eventually formed a government led by the 27-seat holding Likud, beginning his current decade-long run in office. And of course, there was 1984, when Shimon Peres (Labor, 44 seats) and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud, 41 seats) fought a hard campaign, and when both failed to bring smaller parties to a coalition, formed a national unity government with a rotating premiership.

For Israel, a multi-party parliamentary system, election day is but one step in a process of choosing a new leader. Following the election, President Rivlin will invite each party to recommend any Knesset member for prime minister. He must then decide which individual has the highest likelihood of successfully forming a 61-seat majority. Once that person is invited to form a coalition, they will have up to 36 days to do so.

The next Knesset, like the current one, will also have parties within the parties; factions that run as a joint-list for the ballot but have different priorities once seated in parliament. And each party will have very different demands about what it “must have” to be in a coalition, whether that is investment in women’s issues or legalizing marijuana, economic reforms, and, predictably, specific policies on security and peace issues. Someone will find a way to get to 61 and have a coalition agreement that paradoxically both reflects and alters the platforms of the parties involved.

So, as in past election years, do not look for a congratulatory statement from JCRC on Wednesday. Instead, we’ll be getting out the proverbial popcorn and observing negotiations that will likely run into mid-May. We will be educating ourselves and our community about the election results and their significance. We’ll invite you – on our social platforms and in our programs, including our monthly Israel Engagement briefing on April 17th – to pay attention to how the smaller parties did and what they are prioritizing. We’ll wonder about different coalition possibilities and what they will prioritize. We’ll pay attention to a diverse group of Israelis with expertise as they make sense of the results.

Later this month we’ll sit down with our Council, our own diverse community of 44 organizations covering the gamut of Jewish communal views about Israel – everyone from AIPAC to Hadassah, ZOA and the Boston Workmen’s Circle, AJC, ADL, J Street, and the Israeli-American Council, along with representatives from the community at-large. Together we’ll try to make sense of how we as a collective understand the results.

And then, when a new government is formed, we’ll make a statement. We will articulate once again how we, as one organized Jewish community, perceive the new Israeli government. And we will do so rooted in our commitment to support our Israeli partners in the pursuit of a secure, Jewish, and democratic state of Israel, living side-by-side with a viable Palestinian state in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

For now, Shabbat Shalom.

Jeremy

p.s. A tidbit: In Israel, election day is a national holiday. People go to the polls and then to the parks. And voter turnout is quite high, 72% in the last election (compared to 56% in the U.S. in 2016). Something for us all to think about.

Prepping for AIPAC

As the AIPAC Policy Conference begins this weekend in DC, I am thinking about a survey that’s creating a buzz in our world.

Last October, the Mellman Group reported that an overwhelming majority of Jewish voters – 92% - identify as “generally pro-Israel” while only a marginal 3% consider themselves “generally not pro-Israel.”

This has come up in recent months as we witness groups identifying as both Jewish and anti-Zionist providing cover for those employing anti-Semitic tropes that go beyond fair criticism of Israel’s government and polices. And when we see and hear some  political and interfaith leaders cite those groups as validators (e.g. “but I’ve met with my Jewish partners and they say…”) we can factually point out that: when some on the left say that they are engaging with and listening to the American Jewish community, but they are only talking to fringe anti-Zionist groups, then they aren't really interested in what American Jews think, feel, and experience.

There’s another data-point in this report, of even greater interest to me, regarding the 92%:

“fewer than a third (32%) say that they are also supportive of the current Israeli government’s policies. A majority (59%) say that they are “pro-Israel,” but critical of at least some Israeli government policies, with 24% critical of many of the government’s policies.”

In other words, American Jews have an overwhelming consensus on our commitment to the future of a Jewish state, but we are divided into three fairly significant camps over the direction of the Israeli leadership.

There is however, another layer, one not covered in survey questions; how do we understand our unique role as American Jews in giving voice to our criticisms?

Historically, our community has been organized around the understanding, most memorably articulated in the “Blaustein-Ben-Gurion” agreement of 1950, that “the State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens” and that “the allegiance of American Jews is to America alone, and should put an end to any idea or allegation that there is such a thing as ‘dual loyalty’…” We built a network of institutions, including AIPAC, that acted with an understanding that whatever our diversity of views and our differences with Israel’s leadership, we would mostly – and in particular on matters of security – express those views privately.

For the past 25 years, these norms and understandings have been fraying; both Jewish communities have been increasingly open about challenging each other. When Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and Ariel Sharon withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, each had public tension with some portions of American Jews who didn’t rally behind their governments. Over the past decade, American Jews have formed institutions – both on the progressive and conservative side, and very much within our 92% consensus of support for a Jewish state – that have openly challenged Israeli security policies with which they disagree. More recently, many of us have been openly frustrated when Israel’s political leaders speak on behalf of all Jews, including us Americans, in ways that effectively absolve our own elected leaders of their role in amplifying antisemitism in our country.

In an era when any fool with a twitter handle can amplify any extreme idea, the norms of a relationship between two Jewish communities built on public comity and solidarity has become increasingly challenged. Legacy institutions, whether it be AIPAC, a JCRC, and others, are navigating these changing norms.

I perceive AIPAC as a coalition across at least some of those differences; a coalition that comes together to support the enduring bonds of the US-Israel relationship. AIPAC works because it relies on the notion that while we may individually be supportive or have critiques of any particular Israeli government, our agency with regard to criticism of Israel is best, and mostly, to be shared privately and always in loving and respectful ways. And while that notion of agency is changing - and others at the JCRC table come down resolutely on the side of public critique - this particular branch, representing large portions of the Jewish community, works because it bridges its internal divides over that critique.

So on Sunday I will arrive, as I do every year, in DC for the AIPAC conference; the single largest annual gathering in DC to advocate for any policy agenda, reflecting the depth and breadth of support for our nation’s connection to Israel.

There will be evangelical Christians, LGBTQ, African-American, Feminist, Latino and Labor leaders all together in one room. But mostly, there will be American Jews, and we Jews will be a diverse bunch. Many will be from among the 32% of us who generally support the policies of Israel’s government, and many of us will be amongst the 59% who are not.  But there will be some established understanding amongst those present that, at least in this space, our critiques or lack thereof do not unite us.

Next week we will hear conflicting voices including Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of the Israeli opposition leaders - patriots each of them as well. And we’ll be there even in our disagreements about our role in publicly criticizing Israeli policies – including some millennial Zionist leaders who wrote a public letter to the Prime Minister this week.

I believe that Jewish community is best served when we remind ourselves that at the end of the day we’re a small people. We are bonded to each other by our history, our values and what unites us - including the vast consensus we hold as American Jews: to support and work for a Jewish, secure and democratic state of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC dismayed by decision to empower Otzma Yehudit

February 23, 2019 - The JCRC of Greater Boston is dismayed by reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu personally played a role in the electoral arrangement by which the Otzma Yehudit “Jewish Power” party is running on a joint list in the April Knesset elections. Otzma Yehudit was founded by close disciples of Meir Kahane and is the descendent of his Kach party, a designated terrorist organization under Israeli, American, and European law that was barred from running for the Knesset for inciting racism. Otzma Yehudit shares many of these reprehensible racist and violent views. They are anathema to the values expressed in Israel’s declaration of statehood and we abhor any effort to normalize these views and bring these actors into any governing coalition. We have communicated our concerns to the representatives of the government of Israel.

On January 17, 2019, at a meeting of the Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, the following resolution was adopted by a vote of 62-13 with 8 abstentions:

Whereas, in 1944 the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) was formed as a coalition of organizations to act as an organized Jewish community of Boston, the express purpose of this coalition being to confront, in a unified manner, threats to the Jewish community including and specifically anti-Semitism; And,

Whereas, JCRC’s mission includes being a “representative voice of the organized Jewish community.  Rooted in Jewish values and informed by Jewish history… Comprised of constituent organizations” ; And,

Whereas, as a coalition of organizations JCRC advocates for a “safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel” ; And,

Whereas, JCRC’s bylaws articulate that with regard to an organization’s eligibility to be a member of the JCRC, “the programs, activities, and practices of such organization and, if applicable, its parent organization, are compatible and do not conflict with the mission” of JCRC; And

Whereas, JCRC has, for many years, understood support for the global BDS movement to be an indicator of an organization’s denial of the legitimate national aspirations of the Jewish people to a state of our own in our homeland, and; has understood such denial to be incompatible with support for a safe, secure, Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and thus, to be antithetical to our mission; And

Whereas, the JCRC believes that when an organization that claims for itself an identity as a Jewish voice, while explicitly and unequivocally placing itself in opposition to Zionism, including: Fully rejecting the national aspirational movement of the Jewish people; making false and tendentious claims about Jewish history and the experience of Jews both in Europe and in Arab countries, and; defining Zionism as false and failed; That such an organization is speaking and acting from an ahistorical ideology that places itself outside the boundaries of the organized Jewish community that JCRC has been formed to represent. Additionally, such an organization is lending credence and validity to similarly noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community; And,

Whereas, the JCRC believes that when an organization rejects the very legitimacy of Jewish national aspirations and, in the same breath, legitimizes and aligns itself with the national aspirations of other peoples, that such a position is, itself, holding the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; And,

Whereas, the JCRC understands such a self-identified Jewish organization to be, through its own words and actions, advancing an ideology that is expressly in opposition to a safe, secure, Jewish and democratic state of Israel; and, further, that such an ideology is riven with frameworks and analysis that place it in opposition to the mission of JCRC.

Now therefore be it,

Resolved, that no member organization of JCRC, through its programs, activities and practices, shall partner with – in particular by co-sponsoring events primarily led or co-led by or by signing on to statements primarily organized or co-organized by - a self-identified Jewish organization that declares itself to be anti-Zionist;

such action is not compatible with, and is in conflict with, JCRC’s mission, and could be grounds for removal from the JCRC upon the determination of and through the procedures of this Council and its bylaws.

 

 

A Special Post Announcing A Decision Made by Our Council Last Night

Seventy-five years ago, in 1944, a group of Jewish organizations in Boston formed a coalition to confront threats to the Jewish community, including and specifically anti-Semitism. That coalition, JCRC, came to act as a representative voice of the organized Jewish community, and over time, its constituent organizations developed abiding principles and values that live on in our mission statement.

JCRC’s priorities and agenda have evolved over time but our principles have endured.

In our early years, support for a safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel meant working for the survival of a nascent state and supporting the early upbuilding as it absorbed Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jews expelled from Arab countries. Today it calls us to defend the State of Israel from those seeking to delegitimize its very existence, while working with our Israeli and Palestinian partners in support of their efforts to achieve the full promise and inspiring vision embedded in the Israel declaration of statehood.

Our commitment to promote an American society that is democratic, pluralistic, and just was a call to action for a generation of post-War American Jews working to find their place in a country where neighborhoods and associations could still say “No Blacks, No Jews.” Today, we face other and real threats to the norms of our democracy, challenges to the credibility of the institutions that bind us together as a society, and the fraying of our national sense of shared purpose around an American creed.

Six months ago, a member organization of JCRC signed on to a statement organized by a self-identified Jewish organization aligned with the global BDS movement, a movement that denies the legitimate national aspiration of the Jewish people. That action triggered questions and concerns within our coalition, given our long-established view that support for BDS is contrary to our mission. Our Membership Committee began a process of discussion and dialogue with our member organization.

In the course of those conversations, that member organization questioned whether JCRC’s long abiding principles were not only operative, but also whether they were in fact the view of the Council as a collective (comprised of 43 member organizations, 29 community representatives, along with our Officers, Board of Directors, and past presidents), affirmed through its decision-making process. To ensure a transparent democratic process, last month the JCRC Membership Committee asked the Council to reaffirm and codify our view.

As JCRC does when we are at our best, we entered into a deliberative process across our network. We circulated draft resolutions and rationales to all of our member organizations, who then went through their various internal processes to determine their views, articulate changes they would seek, and guide their votes on a final, codified view. Member organizations lobbied each other and community representatives on the Council. Caucuses came together around various specific issues and wording. Alternative motions were circulated and re-drafts were shared.

Last night, the Council came together at its regular meeting to hear the report of the Membership Committee and to make a decision.

The debate was tinged with sadness and humility.

Sadness that, in their frustration and anger with the government of Israel, some Jews would choose to hold the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; to act from an ahistorical ideology; to be part of organizations that lend credence to noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community.

Sadness that at the end of this JCRC process we may ultimately separate from a venerable organization, the Boston Workmen’s Circle (BWC), a founder of our coalition and a home for many Jews in Boston who have no other Jewish space that resonates for them.

Humility that our actions have consequences. We are clear that we are mandated only to define the compacts that bind this coalition together, and not to define who is a Jew or who should be excluded from the broader Jewish community. Even so, our hearts are heavy in the knowledge that the steps we take may be read by others as rejection of them as individuals and Jews; not just of an ideology that is counter to our mission.

Humility that we must do more to create spaces and pathways to action for those in our community who are disappointed and dismayed by the actions of Israel’s government. Pathways that connect them to Israelis and Palestinians who share their hopes and sense of urgency, without denying the legitimacy of our people’s national aspirations.

Our debate was held in the spirit of argument for the sake of heaven, with the understanding that good people who share a commitment to Israel’s future as a Jewish state can and often do have different ideas about that future and how to achieve it. It was a debate in the spirit of the houses of Hillel and Shammai as recorded in the Talmud, two vigorously dissonant views on issues fundamental to the codification of rabbinic Judaism but who, at the end of each debate, went home inextricably linked to each other as one community.

And then, finally, by a vote of 62 ayes and 13 nays, with 8 abstentions, our Council resolved:

That no member organization of JCRC, through its programs, activities and practices, shall partner with – in particular by co-sponsoring events primarily led or co-led by or by signing on to statements primarily organized or co-organized by – a self-identified Jewish organization that declares itself to be anti-Zionist;

such action is not compatible with, and is in conflict with, JCRC’s mission, and could be grounds for removal from the JCRC upon the determination of and through the procedures of this Council and its bylaws.

While our dialogue with BWC will continue in the coming weeks, we took an important step in clarifying who we are as a coalition, and what boundaries define this coalition in advancing JCRC’s mission. We did so through our process of deliberative and representative democracy on behalf of our organized Jewish community; a process that we rely on to form our principles and our policies; a process that is the foundation of the legitimacy to do public advocacy and community relations on behalf of this coalition. And we move forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Complexity and Connection

The impact of our Israel trips is not easily observed or measured. Sometimes trees fall in the woods, with no one around to hear them. If one of our study tour alumni tells a story to a congregant or a constituent about something they experienced in Israel, we may never hear about it. That is why we were so heartened to read the news out of Springfield earlier this week.

Justin Hurst, the Springfield City Council’s new President, traveled with JCRC to Israel in December as part of our Municipal Leaders Study Tour. The speech he delivered at his swearing-in ceremony was largely inspired by his Israel trip, his appreciation of the complexity he encountered, and its connection to his work in Massachusetts.

 

(L-R) Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Springfield City Council President Justin Hurst, and JCRC Board Member Fredie Kay at the swearing-in ceremony.

One of our study tour visits is particularly relevant here. Toward the end of our trip, we met with Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, co-director of the Abraham Initiatives (featured as part of our Boston Partners for Peace program). Thabet spoke to us about many of Abraham Initiatives’ programs, including their safe communities and equitable policing initiative. The Abraham Initiatives are working from two directions—with the Israeli police and security services and with Arab communities in Israel—to develop better relationships and safer communities. This includes increasing the representation of Israel’s Arab citizens in the police force, various high-level training programs, and other trust-building initiatives.

I wonder whether Justin had that conversation with Thabet in mind when he raised this particular issue during his swearing-in speech. In both Israel and Massachusetts, we witness the often fraught relationship between minority communities and the police. This is a common theme that stretches from Massachusetts to Israel and around the world. In Israel, Justin heard about cutting edge efforts, that are succeeding in ensuring greater representation of minorities on local police forces, and building stronger relationships between law enforcement and the community. Finding common cause with their counterparts in Israel experiences, sharing the challenges they face as municipal leaders, and being inspired by each other’s creative solutions; these are the very sparks we hope to ignite during the study tour experience.

But the new relationships and connections don’t end there. Justin was not the only study tour participant present at his swearing-in. Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, and JCRC board member Fredie Kay were all there to support him. Not only did Justin make an individual connection between his role in Springfield and his Israel trip, he made connections with the rest of the group that will lay the ground work for new collaborations in the years to come.

This brief vignette captures everything we hope to achieve on our study tours: complexity and connection. We introduce people to the complexities in Israel—some of which are unique to Israel, while others resonate deeply with participants’ own experiences back home. This creates the opportunity for deep and meaningful connection; we can learn lessons from the Israeli experience that help inform our lives in Massachusetts and can share our own insights with our friends there. I was thrilled to see both complexity and connection at play in Springfield this week.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

JCRC to Lead MA Municipal Leaders on Study Tour of Israel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2018
Contact: Shira Burns
gro.n1555650515otsob1555650515crcj@1555650515snrub1555650515s1555650515
(617) 457-8673

JCRC to Lead MA Municipal Leaders on Study Tour of Israel
Massachusetts Community Leaders to Explore Economic Ties to Region

(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston continues its long history of leading Massachusetts community leaders on a study tour of Israel, this month providing MA municipal leaders with an in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society.

From December 7-15, Massachusetts municipal leaders will travel throughout Israel, learning from government officials and religious, academic, media, and business leaders.

“This trip will allow Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel's politics and culture, and examine some of the economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “The best way to deepen the MA/Israel connection is through a mutual understanding of our common interests—participants will gain firsthand knowledge about how they can strengthen relationships with their Israeli counterparts."

The Massachusetts municipal leaders will:

  • Meet with government officials, municipal leaders, and other influential leaders from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society, developing city to city connections and sharing best practices in addressing current municipal issues
  • Visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, border regions, and the Palestinian Areas.
    Discover the growing economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts
  • Gain new perspectives on modern day Israel
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the complex political and security challenges facing Israel
  • Encounter Israel’s innovative economy, including its booming research, development, and tech sector.

The trip is being paid with a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Participants pay a registration fee for the trip from their own funds.

Following are the participants in the 2018 Municipal Study Tour of Israel:

Councilor Andrea Campbell (Trip Chair), Boston Councilor Kim Janey, Boston
Councilor Mark Ciommo, Boston Fredie Kay, JCRC Board Member
Marjorie Ross Decter – JCRC Board Member Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Easthampton
Councilor Edward Flynn, Boston Councilor Nina Liang, Quincy
Select Board Member Heather Hamilton, Brookline Chief of Staff Elizabeth Pimentel, Office of Andrea Campbell
Councilor Katrina Huff-Larmond, Randolph Alderman Mike Zwirko, Melrose
Councilor Justin Hurst, Springfield

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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JCRC Dismayed by Elimination of Funds for Israeli-Palestinian Co-existence

JCRC is strongly opposed to the recent Trump Administration decision to eliminate USAID funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We are particularly disturbed by the Administration’s decision to cut off funding for co-existence programs for Israelis and Palestinians. The suspension of all USAID support will harm the chances for peaceful reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and will only serve to punish the Palestinian people for the failures of their leadership and create an opportunity for extremist groups to gain strength in the Palestinian Territories.

Israeli-Palestinian co-existence programs are the best long-term strategy for achieving peace and the two-state solution. The support of co-existence programs allows the United States to exert its global influence to create change that speaks to our deepest values of justice, dignity, and peace. JCRC calls on the Trump Administration to reverse this decision, and to rethink how United States aid can be used to encourage rather than discourage peace for Israelis and Palestinians.