Monday, January 28, 2019

My Thoughts on Jewish Organizations

There are a lot of Jewish organizations out there. And I have thoughts on them. Some I like a lot. Some I like less. I'm a progressive Zionist with more of an academic than a political bent, which means I don't like anti-Zionist or right-wing groups, and all else equal I prefer groups who are "wonkish" or "scholarly" to "political" or "activist". But the former part matters more than the latter -- I understand the importance of political organizing, even if it isn't my style; whereas groups which actively back settlements or BDS go a ways beyond "not my style".

Anyway, these are just my opinions -- do with them what you will (and yes, I know I forgot your absolute fave/mortal nemesis. It's not comprehensive).

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AIPAC: Kind of an old, creaky battleship at this point. I actually think AIPAC probably does see the threats to its core mission -- namely, the growing partisanization of Israel as an issue -- but is too large and unwieldy to actually do anything about it. For all its supposed power, it's actually not that effective anymore (though it's very effective at being a boogeyman for "the all-powerful Israel Lobby").

Ameinu: I like them a lot. The former Labor Zionist Alliance has the right political orientation and tends to take a careful approach to things, which I appreciate. Its "Third Narrative" initiative is definitely my cup of tea.

American Jewish Committee: Deeply uneven. Sometimes stands out in front on human rights. Sometimes falls over itself to praise Jair Bolsonaro. Definitely not adjusting with the times, and definitely needs to fire whoever is running its Twitter account.

American Jewish Congress: Are they still a thing?

Americans for Peace Now: Of the true "left" groups, definitely my favorite. That's probably because its the only one that's still okay with Zionism, but also because it does genuinely important and substantive work and provides a much needed critical progressive voice inside Jewish communal structures.

Anti-Defamation League: My favorite of the major "mainline" groups. Does it bat 1.000? No. But it's right more often than it isn't, and it takes a lot more flak than it deserves. The effort by conservative voices to place it in the pocket of the left is ludicrous.

A Wider Bridge: In late 2015/early 2016, I started looking up which Jewish organizations not specifically focused on Mizrahi/Sephardic issues nonetheless mentioned Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews. My methodology was pretty basic and the bar was pretty low: do a google site search for "Mizrahi" or "Sephardic". The results were ... disappointing. A Wider Bridge was an exception. Generally does very good work, and the fact that it does good work is probably why its opponents are so desperate to smear it with the "pinkwashing" label.

Be'chol Lashon: Can't rave about them enough. They deserve infinitely more attention, resources, and support from the rest of the Jewish community. I dare say the future of the vitality of diaspora Judaism depends on the success or failure of Be'chol Lashon's work.

Bend the Arc: Another group I'm generally positively disposed towards, though I have little to say on them specifically.

Conference of Presidents: More of an umbrella group, but it needs mention because for too long it's been far too solicitous of its right-wing members (see ZOA). American Jews vote for the Democratic Party at the same proportion as Idahoans vote Republican -- our conservatives should have exactly as much communal power as an Idaho Democrat.

HIAS: If you don't like HIAS, you're a monster.

Hillel: Desperately needs a dose of democracy. They're still the center of Jewish life on many campuses, and that's important in its own right. They're not the evil leviathan Open Hillel makes them out to be, but because they're not accountable to the student population they serve, they constantly fall into easily avoidable pitfalls. They certainly can't be trusted with something as sensitive as a partnership guideline. In my dream world, they become the bureaucratic arm of the American Union of Jewish Students.

IfNotNow: Everything you don't like about BernieBros, but trying to rip apart the Jewish community instead of the Democratic Party. Sanctimonious, smug, hackish, theatrical, and almost unfathomably self-righteous. For them, sparking a civil war within the Jewish community isn't a risk they hope to avoid; it's the point of the movement. "Some people have never met a forest fire they didn't ache to pour gasoline on." I went from "cautious optimism" to "deep disdain" in a hurry.

Israel Policy Forum: Somehow I'm always overlooking them. Don't know why -- they do really good work. Overall, I take a positive view.

Jewish Community Relations Councils/Jewish Federations: Depends on the federation, naturally. As always, I worry about the democracy deficit. Are they responsive to genuine community sentiment, or are they responsive to their donor base?

Jewish Voice for Peace: Ugh.

JFREJ: Everytime I read something from JFREJ, my reaction is always "meh". It's never particularly bad. It's never particularly good. It's meh. I'm if anything impressed by how consistently they make me shrug.

JIMENA: Sometimes takes a more conservative line than I would like, but overall an important voice for the Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish community. When I've worked with them, I've had no trouble integrating my progressive Zionist positions into what we've done together.

J Street: Overall I like J Street (I definitely like this statement it just released on its commitment to Israel's future). It's a political lobbying shop, which means it makes certain compromises I wouldn't (less on issues, and more on using rhetoric that is mobilizing more than it is precise), but that comes with the territory -- a classic "not my style, but someone needs to do it" case. And, far and away, no group is maligned further out of proportion to its actual sins than J Street. It's not even close.

OneVoice: Not exclusively a Jewish organization, but it's so important I'll give them a pass. You want durable and just peace in Israel and Palestine? Do the hard work of building grassroots support and political infrastructure for non-extremism and co-existence. That's what OneVoice does.

Partners for Progressive Israel: I don't end up citing them a lot -- Ameinu ends up filling their niche -- but I'm generally positively inclined.

T'ruah: Another very good progressive organization. Their commentary on the UN resolutions criticizing Israeli settlements is one of my favorite statements by a prominent Jewish organizations on any Israel-related topic, ever. Definitely endorse.

Zioness: Came in deeply suspicious of them. Current posture is cautiously okay. They've filed off some of the rougher edges, and they haven't done what some groups in its niche love to do -- spend 90% of their time wailing about how mean people treat Israel before "proving" their progressive bona fides by writing a post about how terribly Saudi Arabia treats women (*cough* Women's March For All). They actually spend most of their time advocating for progressive ends that have no clear relation to Israel. Good on them! Still think they need to confirm that their progressivism extends to Israel itself, though.

Zionist Organization of America: It's tough competition, but Mort Klein might be the worst. And since ZOA has become almost exclusively a vehicle for his hard-right, racist, xenophobic, anti-Palestinian politics, they're the worst too. The only difference between them and JVP is that ZOA gets to be the worst from inside the communal tent -- which goes to show how systematically biased the Jewish community in favor of our fringe right-wing voices.


David Bernstein said...

"American Jews vote for the Democratic Party at the same proportion as Idahoans vote Republican -- our conservatives should have exactly as much communal power as an Idaho Democrat."

Really a bizarre conclusion, which I'm sure you couldn't justify if you tried to do so coherently. Among other obvious flaws, it would suggest that those 25% of American Jews should withdraw from communal organizations.

David Bernstein said...

Actually, it's worse than that. I'm guessing that the 25% is not entirely consistent from election to election, e.g., that some Romney voters didn't vote for Trump, and vice versa. So let's say there is perhaps 35-40% of the Jewish population (40% being the Reagan high-water mark) who vote Republican at least occasionally in national elections. Should they all quit? How about Jews who will vote for a moderate Republican over a liberal Democrat, as a majority of New York City Jews did in the Giuliani and Bloomberg years?

David Schraub said...

I'm not sure why you think the "Idaho" analogy suggests that the ideological minority should quit. Idaho Democrats don't "quit" Idaho. They're there, they say their piece, they sometimes can get stuff done insofar as the right opportunity presents itself or their priorities overlap with the majority -- they're just not running the ship, and will find themselves losing more often than they win in contested cases. That doesn't counsel taking one's ball and going home, that's just what happens when you're in the ideological minority in a democratically-run space.

David Bernstein said...

Idahoans have to pay a lot of costs to leave Idaho if they don't like its politics. Jews who sometimes vote Republicans actually benefit, personally, from withdrawing financial support from Jewish institutions that don't take their opinions into account. The government can coerce Democratic Idahoans to pay taxes, to, say, pass and enforce restrictive abortion bills. The Jewish community can't coerce anyone from Sheldon Adelson to continue to pay dues into Jewish communal coffers. And note that Jewish communal funds from the "right," likely exceed 25%, given that leftist Jews are less religiously involved, on average. Finally, even if Jewish organizations need to be run "democratically" (they don't), there are plenty of versions of democracy that give voice, sometimes disproportionate voice, to the minority.