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February 28, 2014

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PAGE 4A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 28, 2014 Responding to the J Street challenge By Ben Cohen Ever since its founding in 2008, J Street, the liberal Jewish advocacy group, has expended a great deal of time and energy trying to convince American Jews that it is a credible and more ethical alternative to traditional pro-Israel organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). J Street believes, not unreasonably., that there is a constituency for its work among those American Jews who are generally supportive of Israel but queasy over certain of its poli- cies, most obviously creating and sustaining Jewish communities in the West Bank. Nor is this an unprecedented insight: from the 1970s onwards, there were organizations like Breira ("Alternative") and New Jewish Agenda that aimed to give voice to the same disquiet. J Street, however, is much savvier than either of those earlier incarnations. Unlike its ideological predecessors, there are no rumors circulating of its imminent demise. For the foreseeable future, then, J Street will remain a part of American Jewry's political landscape. This reality is implicitly acknowledged in "The J Street Challenge," a criticaldocumen- tary film about the organization that has just been released by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Boston-based group run by the well-known anti-slavery activist Charles Jacobs. And it is a reality that, JacQbs and his colleagues (including executive producer and director Avi Goldwasser) insist, needs to be grappled with through honest debate and discussion. The key question raised by the film is what it means to be "pro-Israel" not on a personal level, but within the context of the political lobbying and advocacy that swirls around American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian Tikkun Olam So, what does that mean? If it is the duty of the Jewish People to "Heal the World," where would you start? Is it up to us to finally wake the world up to the fact that the world--our world--really needs healing? Yes, it is. No one in this winter of snowy discontent will disagree that something is re- ally changing. That the snows, where they are, are deeper and more frequent and where they are not the drought gets worse. That we know. That is a given. That last year was the warmest on record and this year, despite a brutal winter will probably be worse is also a given. There are those few mouth breathers who still might believe that this is a natural se- quence of the world chilling and heating. That might not find it different. But the cycles are now in years not centuries. There are 30 mil- lion automobiles spewing carbon monoxide in the air that were not there 50 years ago. The science is strong. The threat is real. Read "The Sixth Extinction" if you have any doubt. Each of us might feel a bit helpless with our feeble attempts at recycling while the Indonesian government allows vast swaths of rainforest to be cut down each day so rich folks can have the kind of hardwood floor they fancy. And why do we as Jews have to take particular interest and action about this? Is it really our job? Yes, it is. There have always been floods and droughts. People have always starved in parts of the earth. Bad guys have ruled and the government of this nation has often been stupid and short sighted. Sowhat is different now? The difference is that we know better now And we know so much more about stuff than we used to. We live in a 24-hour newscycle. Nobody waits until the morning paper shows up to get the news. Turn on your phone at any hour and there it is. There were once celebrated news anchors like Cronkite and Brokaw and the giant Tim Russert of blessed memory. News is a 24-hour business. So, would you not think we would be better informed, bet- ter educated? Not a chance. Not when college dropouts like Sean Hannity opinionate every day on radio and on that silly excuse for a news channel called FOX. But through it all. Through the clutter and cacophony and the bias and the lack of talent and brains, the story is there for all to see. We see the icebergs melting. We see the huge traffic jams and the carbon monoxide rising from the cars in them. We hear the scientists and we know. Oh yes, we know. Jews are tasked with healing the world. No other people were given this mandate directly from God - and now we know why. We in this nation of ours will surpass three hundred mil- lion people very soon.And they all eat and drive and pollute and are totally in favor of greening and stopping global warming as long as it does not cost them anything. Never mind that the cost of not doing any- thing a generation or so down the line will be triple thecost of reversing the trend now. Our congress thinks in two-year segments and outside interests have more clout than either party. But we are Jews and we are supposed to do better. We are supposed to really care about feeding the hungry and keeping this planet of ours as God intended it. We have risen from the Holocaust to create the State of Israel whose greatest export is brains. We are Jews and we are not supposed to sit idly by, driving our Lexus cars and our SUVs and watering our lawns five times a week and grab- bing our plastic bags and our Florida houses at 70 degrees in the summertime. We are the Jews. We have been put here by God for tikkun olam. We are supposed to cut through the clutter of the talking heads on all those channels and seek the truth, We are supposed to take action once we have the facts. And friends, we have the facts. There are still those who believe we have too much influence. Great. Let's use it. On our congress people and our state, which allows a California water company to draw more than a million (a million) gallons of water out of our aquifer every day. It's time. Let us begin to heal the world. Turn up the thermostat; get the heavy bag for your groceries. Get involved locally and beyond. Yes, your word, your voice, your vote counts. You are a Jew? It is your heritage and your mission. Do not ignore it. We are Jews. We are here to heal the world. Hillel said it best: "If not me, then who? If not now. Then when." Today. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. I   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE   ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 43 Press Awards Editor/PubBsher . Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Assocbte Editor Assistant Editor HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101; Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. . POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 email: Gene Starn Kim Fischer Chris DeSouza Society Editor Bookkeeping Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Account Executives Barbara do Carrno Marci Gaeser Contributing Columnists Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky David Bornstein Ed Ziegler Production Department David Lehman Gil Dombrosky Joyce Gore I conflict (or, as Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse more accurately terms it in her interview in the film, "the Arab conflict with Israel"). And when you examine J Street's record, it becomes very hard to dispute Professor Alan Dershowitz's assertion that the organization--despite its much-vaunted tagline--is "neither pro-lsrael nor pro-peace." To begin with, there are J Street's funders. As the film documents, ferocious critics of Israel like the hedge-fund billionaire George Soros and Genevieve Lynch, a board member of the pro-Iranian regime National Iranian- American Council, have donated significant sums to the organization. And although it says it is opposed to the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, J Street maintains close ties with those who advocate collaboration with the BDS movement in targeting West Bank settlements, like the writer Peter Beinart and the corporate lawyer Kathleen Peratis. This milieu is hardly conducive to J Street's "pro- Israel" self-image. Then there are J Street's statements. As Dershowitz points out, you "rarely" hear J Street praising Israel. A far more familiar refrain consists of slamming Benjamin Ne- tanyahu's government as an obstacle to peace, or opposing tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime--positions that don't raise an eyebrow when articulated by anti-lsrael groups, but which sound rather discordant coming from a group that claimsto support Israel. In that regard, much of the J Street documentary studies why the orgar/ization's analysis of Israel's situation is wrong. Its emphasis on Israel's land policies in the West Bank, its tin ear when it comes to Palestinian and Arab incitement, its embrace of a strategy that would result in the U.S. pushing Israel to make decisions contrary to its basic security interests--these moral and strategic errors are all familiar to anyone who has followed the debate about J Street's contribution. Letter from Israel .... By Ira Sharkansky There is a long tradition, no less prominent in Judaism than in other cultures, of voluntary service and donations collected for the benefit of the needy or some other public purpose. There is also a long list of eleemosynary organizations that have gone bad; with leaders using the resources collected for their own enrichment. The schnorer is an established character is Jewish myth and humor. The man or woman who asks for money, some of which may be for him/herself, but is skilled in telling a story that warms the heart and opens the wallet. Currently in our headlines are the Hadas- sah hospitals, whose management is not so far accused of anything criminal, but which has amassed huge debts, produced as a result of mismanagement. If the discussion has not included accusation of stealing, there are numerous stories of well placed individuals who have been paid impressively large sums for work that seems only marginally associated with the fine purposes that the Women of the Hadassah organization have trumpeted as the reasons for donating. The hospitals currently are not paying their bills, and are having trouble obtaining medi- cines and equipment. Employees are getting only part of their salaries, are working only part of the time, and threatening to stop even that. Various government officials are proclaiming that Hadassah is too important to fail, but are wrestling among themselves and with various representatives of the Hadassah administra- tion and its workers to deal with the various claims and assertions of what must be done. Those speaking for the physicians, nurses, low .ranking and senior administrative per- sonnel, various government officials with responsibiliy for finance or health, and the worthies of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America are blaming one another for the problem, and asserting their own innocence and aspirations. There is a substantial literature written about organizations which helps us to un- derstand this. Private, public, or a mixture of the two is no More enlightening is the film's examination of why J Street exercises such an attraction to a particular kind of American Jew. Many of the interviewees argue persuasively that affiliation with J Street is more of a lifestyle choice than a political statement, in that it allows liberal Jews to equate their identity with their fealty to the "progressive" values they see Israel as betraying. But is that how the J Streeters themselves view it? Since no J Street representative ap- pears in the film, it's hard to say for sure. Ac- cording to the end credits, Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director, "declined" to be interviewed, which left the producers with no option but to use existing footage of Ben-Ami speaking to other audiences. J Street told me that Ben-Ami was not interviewed because he was not available at the time the producers suggested. Either way, the absence of a direct interview with Ben-Ami, in which he answers the points raised by J Street's critics, slightly blunts the film's impact. The most heartening aspect of the film consists of young, pro-Israel activists elo- quently expressing why they distrust J Street. Through theirwords, the viewer gets an insight into the courage and intelligence required to defend Israel on campus these days. Indeed, one of them, Samantha Mandeles, who cur- rently works as campus coordinator for media watchdog Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), is so impressive that I found myself wondering whether she'll apply for the post-Abe Foxman national director's job at the Anti-Defamation League--she certainly deserves serious con- sideration. In any case, seeing and hearing the next generation of genuinely pro-Israel Jewish leaders is reason enough to give "The J Street Challenge" an hour of your time. Ben Cohen is the Shillman analyst for JNS. org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Com- mentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications. .... Hadassah et al guarantee of good management. There may be crooks, fools, and pompous self-inflated personalities in leadership positions in orga- nizations of all kinds. Currently competing for the headlines with Hadassah is a high-ranking police officer who has resigned under pressure, associated with a charismatic rabbi accused of various nefarious activities. The police officer and the rabbi are accusing one another of the more serious wrongdoings. Also getting headlines is a former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, accused of taking bribes, and putting in his own pocket large sums donated for public purposes. Israel claims to be the culmination of whatever is Jewish, as well as pleased to accept the support and donations of Jews elsewhere. It may be heretical to criticize hard working men and women who are convinced they are doing the Lord's work by volunteering, raising money, and contributing their own for the good work of building Israel. Yet it should be no surprise that one of the most prominent of their organizations does not match the fine words used to fire up volunteers and raise money. Hadassah is not alone. The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) has been in and out of trouble several times in its long history. Other hospitals and the universities, each of which has its organiza- tion of overseas friends, also have had scandals large or small. We should be careful before claiming that Israel is better or worse managed than any other country or organization. There are lists claiming to rank such things, but typically they rely on the judgement of people claim- ing to be experts. One should doubt that the experts know enough about various countries or organizations to compare and rank one with the other. Israel in February 2014 is not the same mythic place of 1948, or even as it was when I arrived in 1975. I recall that no university students had their own cars. It was not a problem to find a parking place at the university. Sharkansky on page 15A