Examples abound -- from the insipidity of a succession of TribeFests, to one failed GA after another, to the shitstorm of the Global Planning Table, to the futility so evident by a lack of follow through on the egalitarian Kotel Plaza, the Knesset Conversion legislation and so many others. Maybe JFNA's tagline ought to be Leaving the Strength of a People to Others. Yet, of all of the failures, JFNA leadership's lack of any plan, any strategy or any tactics in light of the assault on Conservative and Reform Jewry in the the Prime Minister's Office and in the halls of the Knesset is both inexcusable and without precedent. In fact this sad state is unforgivable...unforgivable.
We all should be aware that but for the serendipity of Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to support both the breach of his agreement with regard to egalitarian prayer access near the Kotel and the codification of Ultra-Orthodox control of conversions at the time that Diaspora leaders -- lay, professional and Rabbinic -- were in Jerusalem for meetings of the Jewish Agency, the strong probability based upon precedent is that JFNA leaders would have done nothing more than send a letter kvetching while fawning, give interviews and think their job is done. But, instead there were concrete actions taken by JAFI leadership with JFNA and Federation leaders in tow -- cancellation of a Gala Dinner at the Knesset, direct confrontation with the Prime Minister and photo ops, the latest two events in which federation and JFNA leaders participated. It was not coincidence, however, that the PM's decision to "suspend" consideration of the Conversion Bill took place only after the Conference of Presidents flew in to Jerusalem and the Prime Minister's Office to register the concern of Diaspora Jewry. And that suspension was but a tactical retreat not an act about which our leaders should be in their normal state of hyperbolic self-congratulations.
You may ask: Isn't JFNA demonstrating its strength in opposition to the actions of the Government of Israel that directly impact on World Jewry and the vast majority of Jews in our communities and their/our relationship to Israel? And, I would suggest the answer is: No. You then ask how could you write that? Think about this: the JFNA sponsored and heavily hyped/poorly attended FRD Leadership Mission brought its cadre to Israel just a week ago. Jerry Silverman, for reasons even he might struggle to explain, was on that Mission (although he may have left it before it arrived in Jerusalem), which arrived in Israel just weeks after the Prime Minister's decisions on the egalitarian prayer space and the Conversion Bill. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate American Jewry's concerns directly with the PM and with members of the Knesset. And, not only did this not happen; it appeared not to even have been considered. No change in the published itinerary, no meetings with Knesset members or the Prime Minister...on this issue: silence.
What a terrible message. Federation leaders in Jerusalem and the opportunity to directly express our concerns to those in the Government...an opportunity totally lost. Plus, what must Israeli lawmakers think of us; do we really care about this issue? I know this: in an environment in which JFNA had the strength of purpose of the United Jewish Appeal in its best days or the strength of leadership of a Council of Jewish Federations under Shoshana Cardin, all of us can envision our continental leaders implementing a strategy that would have exercised our collective strength in pursuit of our goals -- but not this JFNA, not now and apparently not ever. And we can envision strong action because it actually happened under UJA and CJF.
One Israeli reporter observed:
"Heads of the Jewish Federations of North America said during their recent visit to Israel that they plan on creating a campaign in Israel so that “Israelis know what we’re about,” they explained. My answer to this is: It’s about time, but also a bit too late. Hundreds of millions have been invested in promoting the connection of young Diaspora Jews to Israel, but how much has been invested in getting Israelis to learn about Diaspora Jews? Not very much."Friends in Israel have called to tell me of a set of billboards erected around Israel bearing language so outrageous that I have told them that not even JFNA would be stupid enough to have funded them. Would it? But that brings us back: is JFNA doing anything?
Is it too much to ask that our Continental organization have a strategy and the tactics to implement that strategy on our behalf? I know: rhetorical question. Think about it, friends: federation lay and campaign leaders were in Jerusalem and no thought was given as to how to educate the Mission lay and professional participants and deploy them to the Knesset. I can't think of a greater missed opportunity; a missed opportunity that speaks volumes about the pathetic state JFNA is in during what should be the final moments of its CEO's tenure. This is the equivalent of Aipac bringing a leadership group to D.C. but failing to meet with Congressional leadership.