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by “Ellie Kauder”
THIS WEEK, journalist Josh Nathan-Kazis published in the Forward emails that showed Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) President David Bernstein urged fellow communal leaders not to attack members of the Trump administration for their ties to white supremacists. While doing this, Bernstein and others used our fear of the violent Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Nazi and white supremacist demonstration to fundraise, even while they refused to combat white supremacists in the White House and beyond. As a young Jewish professional employed by a Jewish organization with ties to the JCPA, I want to say: This betrayal scares me to my core.
Bernstein and others like him want our community’s money and respect -- but they don’t want to protect us. And while I was disappointed to see this admitted so bluntly in the emails, I can’t say I was totally surprised. It’s an open secret that the mainstream Jewish community is beholden to reprehensible donors. Some of these large donors openly peddle far-right politics, like casino mogul and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. But others, like the Schusterman Foundation, give lip service to liberalism while making billions destroying the planet.
These donors claim to have the future of the Jewish community in mind. And in the name of that future, they demand that our community break our solidarity with other marginalized groups in favor of loyalty to increasingly rightwing Israeli and U.S. governments. Indeed, if conservative and “moderate” donor dollars are the bottom line, abandoning the actual base of the American Jewish community sadly makes perfect sense.
The capitulation of the mainstream Jewish community to white supremacy at the highest levels of our government should scare us all. I write this not out of some universalist moral longing, but from a place of real fear and confusion. After Charlottesville, I am beginning to think that there is no Nazi warning sign blatant enough -- chanting “Jews will not replace us,” holding mass rallies with torches, killing innocent people -- to cause a real outcry from groups like the JCPA or the Jewish Federations of North America. Of course, so many of these groups have released halfhearted statements advocating for dialogue and peace and “mutual understanding.” But few are willing to call out the prime enabler of this racist, antisemitic violence: dog-whistling and incitement from Trump and his top officials.
It doesn’t just scare me that the Jewish community refuses to call out the white supremacists and Nazis in the government; it also embarrasses me. It embarrasses me that the Jews who make up most of the leadership of these organizations think we will somehow be included in a white supremacist future -- that white nationalism will provide for us if we just keep our mouths shut. It embarrasses me that some in our community seem to think that the cries of “Jews will not replace us” happened in a Charlottesville vacuum, and not because it’s now politically acceptable under the Trump administration for it to happen. It embarrasses me that JCPA could fundraise based on Charlottesville antisemitism, but do nothing to condemn the government officials who have given these Nazis a voice and the courage to come out of their basements and into the streets.
BERNSTEIN CLAIMED it would hurt fundraising efforts to specifically call out white supremacist Steven Bannon and Hungarian neo-Nazi affiliated advisor Sebastian Gorka. And maybe it would. They should take the loss. By taking the money and staying silent instead, the JCPA and others have sided with a monied rightwing minority of our community against the rest of us. I, like most young Jews I know, would have gladly traded in my generous Jewish Federation scholarships to Jewish summer camp and my Israel gap year program if it meant the community that is supposed to represent and protect me would actually take a stand against Nazism and white supremacy in our government.
I’m using a pseudonym to write this piece because I work for a mainstream Jewish organization. I hope -- though not with any bated breath -– that this will be a wake-up call for all of us outside the donor class, especially employees of establishment Jewish organizations like myself. I know for a fact that many of my coworkers agree with what I have written above.
The sad truth is that organizations in service of super-rich donors might never be reformed. It is up to us to build a new community from the wreckage. But in the meantime, if you’re a donor and you don’t like the JCPA’s position on this, move your money to a local progressive Jewish organizing outfit like NYC’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, DC’s Jews United for Justice, or another. These smaller and more independent operations are fighting the real fight to keep us -- and other marginalized groups -- safe. We should follow their lead.
Ellie Kauder is a pseudonym for a young Jewish professional at an establishment Jewish organization.