Sunday, October 20, 2013


by Alan Edelstein
(originally published in The Times of Israel)

There are about 14 million Jews in the world.  My guess is that about nine or 10 million are not connected, not involved, or just otherwise busy, unless they are Israelis, in which case being Jewish means for most just living, paying taxes, working, raising kids, arguing about the country, and all the other mundane but important activities of daily life. 

So, by my figuring, that leaves about four or five million who are connected in some way or another.  For only four or five million people, we Jews seem to have more organizations, institutes, think tanks, museums, you-name-it, than anyone else in the world.  It wouldn't surprise me if every connected Jew could have his or her own organization. 

And we seem to study, think, discuss, and debate every angle of being Jewish that one can possibly imagine.  Just when I thought we had done all that are possible, a new one has popped up.  The latest craze in organizations and subjects is dedicated to discussing what you can discuss about Israel and still be "pro-Israel" or in "support" of Israel. That's right.  We Jews have to have a debate about what it is we are debating. 

My own hometown of Sacramento has gotten into the act.  First, there was a program on "Civil Discourse." Reports that I received indicate that it was basically a session stacked with anti-Israel folks saying that we should include them in our community conversations and that we should be nice when talking with them.

Now we've got an organization called "TICVA, The Israel Civil Voice Alliance."  TICVA's sponsoring a program entitled "Is There More Than One Way for the Jewish Community to Support Israel?"  Panelists are the president of the Jewish Federation, the co-director of the New Israel Fund's San Francisco office, J Street's Northwest Regional director, and a long-time pro-Israel  activist who is a retired professor at University California at Davis, which is just down the road from Sacramento.  The panel will be followed by "community dialogue facilitated by" a local rabbi who serves on J Street's rabbinic cabinet. 

There is an argument that some are pushing this effort as a way to gain inclusion for groups that are highly critical of or outright anti-Israel not so much as to facilitate discussion but for the purpose of being able to say, "Look, even the Jewish community has a split when it comes to support for Israel.  It's mainstream to consider Israel's actions and existence questionable."  According to this line of thinking, getting included in the "big tent" will help these groups in their efforts to weaken and discredit Israel. 

Putting aside this cynical possibility, one is prompted to wonder if a community really needs a panel discussion to answer the question of whether there is more than one way to support Israel?  Isn't it obvious?  Of course there is, and that's where the myriad of organizations to which I made reference comes in.

 We Jews have more organizations ready to support Israel than one can imagine.  All one has to do is join.  Only Jews would think that you need a panel discussion to figure this out.  What will they talk about after saying "yes?"

If one wishes to support Israel politically, one can join an organization such as AIPAC or the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League.  Supporting Israel does not mean failing to mention that, as a democracy, its citizens debate critical issues and many disagree with the current government. 

However, in that circumstance, supporting Israel does mean having the knowledge and ability to explain multiple positions, including ones with which you may disagree.  It also requires taking the time to understand historical context.  In other words, it requires time and dedication, not just a desire to feel on the side of what is right and comfortable.

But there are many ways to support Israel without having to move into the political realm.  One can support Israel by supporting Israeli civil rights organizations, Israeli organizations that feed the hungry, Israeli organizations that promote education, Israeli organizations that defend the rights of minorities, Israeli organizations that support the disabled, Israeli organizations that promote sports and fitness, Israeli organizations that protect the environment.  And for every Israeli organization, there seems to be at least one "American Friends of. . ." organization. 

The list goes on and on.  Opportunities for supporting Israel are unending, thanks to the Jewish propensity for organizations and the fact that Israel is a vibrant and open democracy . 

But, wait, perhaps that kind of "support" is not what those who want to debate "support" have in mind.  Maybe they don't want "support" to mean "support."  Maybe they want "support" to mean "criticize."  Or perhaps they want it to mean "tell Israel what to do." 

Perhaps they want "support" to mean lobbying the U.S. government to pressure Israel to do things or take positions that its democratically elected leaders do not feel is in Israel's best interest.  Perhaps they want "support" to mean imposing their judgment regarding what is in Israel's best interests of its citizens, despite their protestations that they put a high value on and worry about the vibrancy of Israel's democracy. 

Groups who want to support Israel by advocating positions against what it believes is in its interest certainly have every right to do so. And doing this can certainly make one feel comfortable that he or she is promoting what he or she thinks is good for Israel, or for the "oppressed."  Doing this can certainly make one feel good.

But to call that "support" is an insult to one's intelligence, not to mention Webster's.  And it certainly does not require a panel discussion on what I'm guessing is a nice fall evening in Sacramento.  It simply requires use of a dictionary. 


  1. Content - 10! Writing - 10! Keep them coming. Where can this get printed in the US?

  2. Alan, As always you are on target. Somehow when I saw the publicity for the "civil discourse" event I was skeptical. When I read who the panelists would be it appeared to have a slant towards those who have mostly harsh views towards Israel. I decided not to attend, partly due to scheduling conflicts and partly due to a lack of desire to engage in debate. My biggest frustration with many Jewish organizations is the inability to issue an unequivocal statement in support of Israel. Such a statement does not mean lock step agreement with the government, specific parties or organizations in Israel. People have no problem stating a support for the US without having to qualify the statement, why not for Israel?

  3. Excellent. We should demand intellectual honesty instead of settling for camouflage.

  4. absolutely "on target". Thank you.

  5. pretty pathetic what is happening in sacramento. and this isn't even on a college campus.

  6. I "support" this piece and hope it is widely read.

  7. Well said as always. This seems to be more of the same. We have many detractors who disguise their true motives. Why does our federation get into all this?

    1. I think we should have a pannel discussion about this! but my best guess is lack of leadership

  8. Well said. Thanks for the post.

  9. Great piece; especially the dictionary line.

  10. I attended the TICVA event this afternoon. I appreciated the opportunity to interact with Gordon Gladstone of J Street and Becky Buchwald of New Israel Fund. They both sounded pretty positive. J Street's policy statements are solidly pro-Israel, and I really liked the statement condemning the BDS movement on their web site. I want our tent to be as inclusive as possible. But TICVA has carefully avoided discussing any real issues, and I half expect them to try to stretch the tent to cover Jewish Voice For Peace. That clearly isn't going to work.

  11. 14 million out of (current estimate) 7.1 BILLION people. Less than 0.01 percent of the world’s population, but, according to apparent records, 23% of all individual Nobel Prize winners since 1900.

  12. It never fails. You always have something in your blog that is either entertaining (like this one) or thought-provoking.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. I recently resigned from TICVA with this letter:

    "The idea of improving communication among Jews about Israel appeals to me, that is why I agreed to join Ticva, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet all of you and learn from you too. I was uneasy that Ticva has a self-selected membership claiming to represent the Sacramento Jewish community, but I gave it a try.

    I came to meetings, I listen carefully to individual statements, talked at length privately with several of you and that experience left me uneasy about Ticva true direction. I continue to listen, read the material, noticed the changes you are taking and expressed to you, verbally and in writing, my concerns about the direction Ticva is going – but you ignored completely my objections.

    I was still hoping, but as I listen carefully to Tuesday night discussions it became very clear to me by the unambiguous statements of several individuals in the meeting, the selection of organizations, and the one side moderator to participate in the October 20 meeting, also the selection of the movie to show initially, that Ticva is a facade to your attempt to try to dictate to Israel your personal views how Israel should conduct its own affairs.

    Sadly, the direction Ticva is actually taking is not what you are proclaiming. Therefore, I am resigning my membership because Ticva, I believe, changed direction from supporting civil conversation among Jews on Israel to now attempting to reduce support for Israel. Some of you may not intend to do it, but that is the result of the path Ticva is actually taking.

    You are now helping spread the voices of organizations attempting to reduce Israel security, such as the The Jewish Voice for Peace.

    I cannot be part of this effort.

    Matania Ginosar"

  15. You should move this content to twitter as well. Twitter makes it easier for supporters to disseminate your point of view.

    1. Follow me on Twitter@EdelsteinAlan. This post is on it.

  16. This post is right on target. I recently attended a meeting in Sacramento clearly aimed at establishing that one can support Israel without being a Zionist, and that non-Zionists deserve an equal place at the table with long-standing mainstream Jewish organizations that are Zionist. Only one panelist spoke to what I thought was actually relevant. He cited several sources of information online, e.g. CAMERA, MEMRI, StandWithUs, through which one can evaluate the accuracy of statements made about Israel. One panelist talked about the activities of the New Israel Fund, which were interesting but irrelevant other than stressing that it doesn't favor one side or the other in Israeli politics. That is not an unique position. Many Zionist organizations do the same. The representative from JStreet, not surprisingly, spoke about Israel as if it was just a country like any other, with no acknowledgment that it is the Jewish homeland, that it exists in a bad neighborhood so must take extraordinary security measures, and that it is constantly subjected to standards of behavior to which no other country is subjected.
    The saddest comments came from the representative of the Sacramento Jewish Federation. He fueled the efforts of non-Zionists/anti-Zionists to be accepted as mainstream Jews. He asserted that the Federation cannot afford to alienate any "large" segment of the Jewish population to the point where donations to the Federation from that segment would cease. He pointed out that would cause hardships to Jews in the community who require assistance of various kinds. Therefore, for example, he said that the Federation will not accept ads in the Federation newspaper from organizations that are objectionable to a significant number of Jews in the community. He named not only JStreet, but also AIPAC, the long-standing, strongest pro-Israel Jewish organization in the country--one that is regarded in every town with a Jewish population as the voice in support of Israel. The non-Zionist/anti-Zionist forces have won a victory in Sacramento.

    Hal Stein

  17. Alan another gem! This one should be in the Times of Israel if it wasn't already.