Jewish Communal Organizations are Endangering American Jews
Congress's refusal last week to censure or even reprimand Rep. Ilhan Omar's repeated expressions of Jew-hatred was a historic moment that should have been met with universal condemnation by America's Jewish communal organizations, especially since Jews have not felt this beleaguered worldwide since the Shoah. Yet most of these groups that for decades have claimed to represent American Jewry responded with a whimper rather than a bang, reminiscent of their disastrous failure to speak out during the Shoah.
Ilhan Omar (photo credit: Fibonacci Blue).
A case in point is the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, the local arm of the national umbrella group the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. A close examination of how they responded to Rep. Omar offers insight into the pathologies that currently afflict most contemporary American Jewish communal organizations.
The Indianapolis JCRC’s recent press release did acknowledge that Omar’s comments represent classical anti-Semitic motifs and that criticisms of her behavior can’t simply be dismissed as a knee-jerk pro-Israel response. However, coming from a group that claims its “core” mission is to “safeguard Jews here, in Israel, and around the world,” this strikes us as thin gruel for celebration. What is instead obvious to the careful reader is the statement’s many serious shortcomings.
To begin with, releasing the statement on the Jewish Sabbath as the JCRC did is inexplicable since the Omar controversy had been brewing for many days. The underlying message many traditional and religiously observant community members took home is that the JCRC has less interest in Jewish unity than in maintaining a pretense that it is the official “voice” of the Jewish community.
In terms of its content, the statement deliberately withheld comment on last week’s seismic event -- the takeover of the Democratic Party by an alliance of progressive members of Congress. The newly-dominant forces not only successfully blocked the party from effectively censuring Omar, but also forced it to adopt a bill establishing “Islamophobia” (the term now used to silence critics of Islamic ideology) as morally equivalent to Jew hatred. In one fell swoop Omar the victimizer had become Omar the victim.
Unlike its recent impassioned press release decrying the lack of a hate crime bill in Indiana, the JCRC’s statement on Omar seemed unconcerned about whether this new turn of events could make American Jews even more vulnerable. In fact, they even played up the Islamophobia bit as a triumph. Ironically, whatever potential benefits the JCRC believed a hate crime bill offers has now been undermined by last week's precedent set by the Democratic Party. From this point on, acts of Jew hatred will increasingly be effectively parried by accusations of “Islamophobia!” or by claims that they were simply a legitimate response to Zionist aggression, as has been tried successfully elsewhere.
The JCRC asserted that condemnation of anti-Semitism -- regardless of its source -- must be “swift and broad” (a position we completely agree with), but the statement rings hollow in light of their grossly imbalanced track record that exclusively benefits the political Left and its preferred identity groups. One example is how they’ve treated local Congressman Andre Carson, himself a Muslim, who at the very minimum obfuscates his support for Jew haters like Louis Farrakhan and Islamic supremacists. Despite our concerted efforts over the years to raise public awareness about these matters and convince the Jewish community that it should publicly and forcefully repudiate Carson, the JCRC has continued to abase itself -- with one minor exception buried in a press release -- by continuing to enjoy a cozy relationship with him as if all is well.
Yet what is unquestionably most shocking about the JCRC is its willingness to sacrifice Jewish security and well-being on the altar of interfaith relations with Muslim groups that regularly promote the vilest of anti-Jewish teachings. The Islamic Society of North America, which was founded by the genocidally anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood as part of its civilizational jihad against America and the West, is headquartered in an Indianapolis suburb. There are mountains of evidence implicating ISNA as among the most influential lpromoters of Jew hatred in the US today. Yet not only has the JCRC refused to address this growing existential threat, it was proud to stand arm in arm with ISNA after their headquarters was reportedly spray painted (though one cannot rule out a fake hate crime).
The JCRC’s concerted and longstanding outreach efforts have served only to legitimize dubious Muslim groups in the public arena. In 2018 a Muslim congregation applied for a building permit to build a large mosque in an upscale Indianapolis suburb. The JCRC enthusiastically supported the permit in the name of interfaith relations clearly without doing any due diligence. Being familiar with the religiously sanctioned anti-Jewish and violent incitement that regularly emanates from so many of America’s mosques, we did some investigation and were quickly able to find information that raised legitimate concerns about the congregation’s ideological nature. Though we went public with this information, we could not undo the damage done by the JCRC’s support, and the building permit eventually was awarded. Interestingly, Muslim groups have not reciprocated and shown much appreciation for the outreach work the JCRC has done, yet like an abused lover the JCRC can't stop itself from continuing this work.
Unfortunately, the type of irresponsible behavior in Indianapolis described is simply a reflection of a broader, national crisis in Jewish leadership. The problem is compounded by a progressive groupthink ubiquitous among American Jewish leaders that we’ve previously chronicled in American Thinker. Such a mindset rejects traditional Jewish thinking and cherishes above all else virtue signaling, intersectionality, and a hierarchical identify politics structure that perversely sets Jewish well-being as a much lower priority as compared to the higher priority of so-called "victim" groups-- despite Jews being the target of more than half of all religiously-motivated hate crimes 21st century America.
So, what is to be done? We expect the Jewish institutions themselves to continue to slowly decay, as vibrant Jewish life becomes increasingly the domain of religiously-observant communities who are less reliant on them for support. In the meantime, we can continue to encourage well-meaning community volunteers to try to moderate from within the more radical impulses of these organizations’ leaders. Withholding funding is another effective way to get the quick attention of leadership.
But the most important work will need to be done independent of such organizations. Fostering the growth of alternative groups across the US (such as ours and others) who are willing and sophisticated enough to confront our enemies head-on is a critical step. Reaching out to form new alliances with growing US religious groups like Hindus or Copts or Arab Christian communities, who face similar ideological enemies here and abroad will be helpful. Working hard to maintain and strengthen support for Jews among evangelical Christians is also necessary. Finally, we need to internalize and teach our children that simply pleading for others to “honor us” as the JCRC did will not work; honor will only come to those who first honor themselves.
Professor Elliot Bartky and Dr. Allon Friedman are President and Vice President, respectively, of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana (www.jaaci.org)