Susan Stern of Jewish Federation 2011-2012 National
Campaign Chair of Jewish Federation of North America
with then Sen. Hillary Clinton at Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2005
Lori Lowenthal Marcus of Z Street writes in The Jewish Press of plans by the North American Jewish Federation to drop the term "Zionism" from its Global Planning Table, "Jewish Federations to Drop "Zionism" from their Global Plans". And we all thought that Jewish Federations were the focus of the American Jewish Community's coimmitment of the Jewish State of Israel. However, we have seen over the past few years evidence of distancing of Federations' from commitment to Israel. That was reflected in underwriting Olive Tree Initiative trips for college students at UC Irvine in California to mistakenly meet Hamas Representatives on the West Bank in Israel by an affiliate of the Jewish Federation of Orange County California. Or inclusion of left extremist Jewish fellow travelers of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions cause on Federation Israel Action Committees. Or showing Palestinian propaganda films at Federation sponsored Film Festivals. When we launched a pledge to oppose such activities, we got only one response from the Saratoga Manatee Federation in Florida. Marcus' column in The Jewish Press comes on the eve of the Tish B'Av - the ninth of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar. It is a fast day that commemorates many of the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people ranging across the millenia from the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE to the fall of the Jewish Republic in 135 CE to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 to the Holocaust. We read from the Book of Lamentations. In Psalm 137.5 we read: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." Apparently, Federations have forgotten that Zionism was the underlying cause of their existence. Pity!
Here are excerpts from Marcus's sorrowful column:
In what has been described as "a closeted and cowardly move," the Jewish Federations of North America last week rejected the inclusion of the term "Zionism" in a major system-wide planning document.
The JFNA's Global Planning Table is the mechanism by which JFNA and Federation leadership come together to determine the allocation of dollars for new Federation initiatives outside of the United States. The Report issued by this collaborative is considered a building block of the allocations decision making process, and it was the call to include Zionism in the recent report that was rejected. The Global Planning Table page of the JFNA website does not include either the term Zionism or Israel.
Richard Wexler, former chair of the Chicago Federation and national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in the late '90's, revealed yesterday, July 26, that JFNA's leaders have rejected the inclusion of the term "Zionism" in their Global Planning Table Work Group Report because the term "is too controversial."
In 2008 Wexler stepped down from his position as chairman of the United Israel Appeal, a subsidiary of what later became the JFNA. He also was one of the architects of the merger of United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the local Federations. Even while in a leadership position, however, Wexler was critical of the management culture, writing in his blog "UJ Thee and Me" that "criticism is not merely ignored, it is not tolerated."
Some fear the JFNA move will be seen as a watered-down acceptance of the notion that Zionism is to blame for the problems in the Middle East, or at the very least an effort to hold at arms length the idea that Jews are entitled to a national homeland.
"I am beyond disappointed and upset," Wexler told The Jewish Press, about the decision to hide from the idea of Zionism. He said, "that is at the heart of all we do."
[. . .]
Further evidence of this trend, according to Wexler, is a drift from the close connections the JFNA had with its actual overseas partners, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Acknowledging that there might be better, more efficient ways for the Federations to encourage North American Jewry with Israel than through the Joint or JAFI, he was adamant that this latest decision -- the excision of the term Zionism from their planning documents -- was morally disastrous.
"What we cannot permit is an implicit denial of the centrality of Israel in our lives and a denial [of] the absolute responsibility we as Diaspora Jewish leaders have to engage more Jews here with Israel."
I sincerely hope you are wrong on this. My Federation (Jewish Federation of Northeastern Pennsylvania - based in Scranton) submits 32% of its gross annual UJA Campaign to Israel and overseas Jewish needs. Any deletion of "Zionism" from the national mandate would reverberate negatively here and undermine not just the principles upon which this Federation is based, but the UJA Campaign that is based on those principles. Our constituency here cannot and will not accept this.
Separate and apart from the above, my personal views reflect those of my community as my book on Islamic extremism, my editorials for Arutz Sheva and the Ariel Center for Policy Research, and my web site (www.marksilverberg.com) reflect.