On July 28th, we posted revelations by Z Street President Lori Lowenthal Marcus concerning the alleged disappearance of "Zionism" from the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) Global Planning documents. I sent the post to a fellow blogger here in Florida who typically republishes many of the articles. However, in this case, he checked out Marcus’ story with a local Federation executive whom we both admired, because his Federation was the only one that had its board approve and sign the pledge we created against Boycott, Divestment and Sanction programs espoused by pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel Jewish ‘progressives’. We were taken aback when the local Federation executive came back and told my friend that National Federation said the story was untrue. We forwarded the Florida Federation Executive’s comments to Marcus for her response.
Yesterday, Marcus published an article in Israel National News (INN), her journalistic experience in relentless trying to nail down the allegations, only to be accused of spreading false rumors by National Federation Silverman and staff. It is entitled, “The Zionist Girl Jewish Federations Love to Hate”. I sent the INN article to my blogger friend and the friendly Florida Federation director to query National in Manhattan. We’ll see what they come back with.
Here are excerpts from Marcus' exasperating and frustrating tale reflective of our own observations on why many Jewish Federations, with some exceptions, have distanced themselves from their Zionist roots.
The battle against Zionism continues today, only now it's being fought inside the gates of the world's biggest Jewish charity. It’s not as if the Jewish establishment actually opposes Zionism. But Israel’s detractors have been so successful that, to put it bluntly: the term Zionism doesn’t poll well. And if Zionism doesn’t poll well, and your goal is to raise money to support Jews and the Jewish Homeland, you’re left with quite a conundrum, indeed, a veritable hornet’s nest.
One former high-ranking leader of global Jewish philanthropy has claimed that the largest Jewish charity in the world succumbed to the polling/fundraising dilemma by rejecting the use of the term Zionism - because that term is “too controversial” - at a recent high level meeting. When this reporter tried to investigate the truth, she unwittingly became, like the title of a popular book, the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
My news article about the Jewish Federations of North America alleged decision to avoid the use of the word Zionism in a major planning document unleashed a firestorm response by JFNA leadership so relentless, one-sided and shrill that their behavior, rather than the underlying original story, must now be laid bare.
On July 27, 2012, my article ran in The Jewish Press.
In writing the story, I did what reporters are supposed to do. First I researched and then interviewed the person making the claim. I then reached out to JFNA people who were at that meeting, and/or who are major players within the JFNA world. I reached out to them for hours, across several states, time zones and levels of leadership, in attempts to include in my story the JFNA response. I was explicit about who I was and what I was making contact about.
I contacted New York City UJA-Federation Chair John Ruskay, his press contact person Jane E. Rubinstein; president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland Steve Hoffman; JFNA’s senior vice president for Global Planning, Joanne Moore; JFNA Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington, D.C. JFNA office, William Daroff; and JFNA spokesman Joe Berkofsky. I was stonewalled at every turn: I got literally nothing of substance back.
After receiving repeated deadline extensions from my editor in Israel - as a daily reporter I am expected to submit a news story every day - I then engaged in a final, harried hour-long Direct Message Tweet exchange in which I implored Daroff to help me find someone from JFNA to comment on my story. I told him who I had already contacted, and explained, “I’d hate to run the story without your input.” Ultimately, after receiving an auto reply from the only person he finally suggested I contact whom I hadn’t yet, Joe Berkofsky, I sent my last message to Daroff: “Joe is out of the office until Aug. 6th. I’ll have to file it without a comment from any Federations folks. Too bad.” I got nothing back from that message either.
The article informed my readers --twice -- that JFNA officials involved in the decision had been contacted but had not responded. The article also pointed out that the alleged decision to remove the term “Zionism” was not, according to Wexler, a final decision and was one made only at a planning meeting, about a document that had not been finalized.
And then it really hit the fan.
What should have been a minor story about a credible critic’s claim that JFNA leadership had rejected the term Zionism as “too controversial,” followed by a JFNA response denying that that’s what happened, and making clear Federation’s Zionist credentials, disappeared in a barrage of personal and unfounded attacks on me.
[. . .]
I began receiving emails early the next morning, informing me that I would soon receive a JFNA statement to include in my (already completed and online!) article. Several hours later I was emailed a statement that did not in any way address the actual question I had raised with any of the half dozen JFNA leaders the day before, nor Wexler's claims in my article.
The JFNA statement did not deny that the term Zionism had been removed from a Federation planning document because it was “too controversial.” JFNA ignored that factual claim -- which was the sole point of my article. Instead, JFNA announced it was absurd to accuse them of abandoning Zionism - which I had not done - and then trumpeted its Zionist credentials. In their statement there is literally no reference to the factual claim to which Federation was supposed to be responding.
[ . . .]
Kathy Manning, Trustee Board Chair, and Jerry Silverman, President/CEO of JFNA, had sent out a mass email to all Federation executives, the subject line of which was “Urgent!” That email began: “On July 27, 2012, Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote accusing the Jewish Federations of North America of moving away from its support of Israel and Zionism." Of course, as anyone can see from reading the article I wrote, I had not done that at all. And I had tried repeatedly to get their rebuttal, which they refused to give. Some Federation executives merely forwarded the statement, some of them went further.
Eventually a JFNA statement was released that finally addressed, at least tangentially, the factual claim I had made. It presented a detailed, “official” version of what happened at the June Global Planning Table Committee meeting. This statement was also posted on The Jewish Press website.
[ . . .]
Silverman’s July 30th statement admitted that a choice had been made not to use the word Zionism in the document. In this version of the story the decision was simply made not to use, rather than to remove that word from, the document, but that decision was pooh-poohed as a mere matter of “wordsmithing.”
[. . .]
I and my article were labeled “scurrilous," "vituperative," "false," "evil," misleading,” and “lashon hara.” And in their latest statement, JFNA leadership used the most somber day in the Jewish calendar to reprimand me and to accuse me publicly of “sinat chinam”-- the baseless hatred of one Jew for another that, according to Jewish tradition, caused nothing less than the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of Jewish sovereignty in Israel for 2000 years. In Federation's narrative, I was presented as the one who needed to repent.
This “baseless hatred” statement not only went out to Federation executives, and was placed in the Comments section under my article on The Jewish Press website. It was also posted on the JFNA website, was sent out in Federation newsletters, and was emailed to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Federation subscribers across the country. It showed up in the email boxes of people from Boston to Los Angeles, from Phoenix to Florida, from Detroit to Philadelphia, and many places in between. Federation officials also strong-armed people who had sent out the original article, telling them to atone for that sin by sending out their statement which, essentially, called me a liar.
[ . . .]
My editor joked that he wouldn’t be surprised to see me being used in JFNA fundraisers the way Rachel Maddow is used by Republican fundraisers and Sarah Palin by Democrats. He wrote: “I can see it now, a local Federation brochure: 'Lori Lowenthal Marcus wants you to hate Jewish Federations, but we won’t let her. Send your checks to the address below.'"
What I released when I inadvertently kicked that hornet’s nest is an ugly side of organized Jewish life. I am sure our true enemies - the ones who turned Zionism into a dirty word - are delighted.
So, like Marcus, I’m also waiting for a response from friends whom I value highly. I hope their response confirms what Marcus has conveyed in her published rebuttal of the leadership of the Jewish Federation of North America. Leadership who appear to have lost sight of what values their organizations represent. Problem is they are not accountable to the Jewish community from whom they solicit funds for support of worthy and unfortunately in all too many instances projects that defeat Zionism and criticize the Jewish State of Israel. Pity!