American Jewry’s Organizational Crack-Up

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Last week an event occurred will be remembered as a key moment in the disintegration of organized American Jewish support for Israel and American Jewish organizational life itself.

Last Friday, the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations announced that the Conference’s nominating committee had selected Dianne Lob, the immediate past president of HIAS to run unopposed for the position of Chairman of the Conference’s Executive Board. Her election is scheduled to take place on April 28.

The Conference of Presidents – an umbrella group that comprises 53 Jewish American organizations — is widely viewed as the most important Jewish organization in the United States.

Why is Lob’s selection important? On the face of things, it was unremarkable. People who have known Lob for decades describe her as a garden variety New York Jewish liberal whose views on Israel are in keeping with the views of the vast majority of American Jews.

Members of the Conference of President for their part claim not to know her at all. During her term as Chairman of HIAS from 2016-2019, she didn’t participate in major Conference events like its trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Lob’s selection is an earthquake in American Jewish organizational life is not because of anything she has said or done, but because of her organizational affiliation to HIAS.

HIAS was established at the end of the nineteenth century under the name Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to assist the hundreds of thousands of penniless Eastern European Jews who were immigrating at the time to the U.S. The last major group of Jewish immigrants HIAS was involved in resettling in the U.S. were the Jews who left the Soviet Union between the 1970s and 1990s.

In 2014, HIAS officially set its Jewish roots aside. It abandoned its full name in favor of its acronym. HIAS CEO and President Mark Hetfield claimed that the world “Hebrew” is exclusionary.

As the Zionist Organization of America documented in a letter to the heads of the Conference of Presidents following Lob’s selection, in a declaration before a U.S. federal court, HIAS attested that the refugees they serve today come from “Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Ukraine, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan, Uganda, Russia, Belarus, and Burma, among other countries. Many of these clients are Muslim.”

Lob herself attested that 90 percent of the Syrians and 60 percent of the Iraqis that HIAS brings to the U.S. are Muslim.

HIAS’s contribution to Muslim immigration to the U.S. is significant for two key reasons. First it is indisputable that many of the Muslims immigrating to the U.S. are anti-Semitic. As ZOA noted, “according to the ADL Global 100 Antisemitism Index, in 16 Muslim majority Middle Eastern countries, 74% to 93% of the population is antisemitic.”

So by bringing Muslims from Syria and Iraq to the U.S., HIAS is in all likelihood bringing anti-Semites to America.

The second reason HIAS’s efforts to bring Muslims to America is significant is because in its work in this arena HIAS has collaborated with Islamic groups associated with Islamic terrorist organizations. For instance, HIAS has worked with Islamic Relief. Islamic Relief is a branch of Islamic Relief Worldwide, (IRW). As the ZOA noted, Israel outlawed IRW because of its terrorist activities, including financing of Hamas terror. HIAS has also worked with the Council on American Islamic Relations, (CAIR) which was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holyland Foundation trial where the Holyland Foundation was found guilty of funding Hamas.

HIAS collaborates with nominally Jewish anti-Israel groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. Both groups are leading actors in the anti-Semitic BDS campaign against American Jews and Israel.

In June 2017, Hetfield and HIAS Vice President Rabbi Jennie Rosenn joined JVP, IfNotNow and other pro-BDS groups in signing a letter defending Linda Sarsour, the anti-Semitic Democratic political activist who has called for Israel’s destruction. Sarsour has publicly supported Hamas and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who himself is a vocal supporter of Adolf Hitler.

In Israel, HIAS works with other leftist extremist groups to prevent the deportation of illegal aliens from Sudan and Eritrea. This week they launched a protest with the Anti-Defamation League in Israel demanding that Israel expand the rights of illegal aliens who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Does Lob, who was the chairman of the board of HIAS from 2016-2019 support the close cooperation with terror affiliated groups and anti-Semites that HIAS maintained under her leadership?

She says she doesn’t.

According to sources briefed on the details of Lob’s meetings with the Conference’s Nominating Committee, Lob said she was not involved in Hetfield and Rosenn’s decision to sign the letter defending Sarsour.

In a letter Lob sent to the members of the Conference after she was nominated to run unopposed for the chairmanship of the Conference’s Executive Board next Tuesday, Lob expressed a deep commitment to Israel and opposition to efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. She referred to the BDS campaign as “reprehensible.”

There are two ways to square this circle. It’s possible that Lob is lying and it’s possible that she’s telling the truth.

If Lob lied to the nominating committee and in her letter to the Conference members, and if she secretly shares the extreme pro-anti-Semite and anti-Israel positions of the extremists who control HIAS, then next Tuesday, leadership of the Conference of Presidents will be transferred to a woman who opposes the values shared 95 percent of American Jews.

If Lob told the truth to the nominating committee then she is shockingly incompetent. Because if she is telling the truth that means that for three years, she oversaw an organization that openly collaborated with groups with known ties to terrorist organizations and supported anti-Semites actively involved in the “reprehensible” BDS campaign against American Jews and against Israel. Presumably, Lob will bring the same incompetence with her to the Conference of Presidents when she takes over as chairman on Tuesday.

Conference officials say that even if Lob wants to transform the organization into a HIAS knockoff she won’t be able to. The conference’s bylaws and regulations and the rules of its executive committee obligate conference leaders to operate in line with the Jewish consensus.

Assuming these officials are right, the best-case scenario is that starting Tuesday, one of the most important organizations in the American Jewish community will be paralyzed. Lob and her colleagues won’t be able to advance anti-Israel and pro-anti-Semitic policies. But with her at the helm, the Conference won’t be able to advance significant measures to support Israel and fight anti-Semites and anti-Semitic groups like Sarsour and Hamas. Such efforts will be stymied by Lob and her colleagues who will claim that they are “outside the American Jewish consensus.”

Lob’s selection came as a complete surprise to Conference insiders. She beat out two candidates with far more organizational experience and centrist credentials. But in truth, her selection is of a piece with recent developments in other key organizations.

Her rise doesn’t reflect a major radicalization of American Jews. Rather, it is the product of a long-term effort by a small cohort of deeply radical hard leftists within the American Jewish organizational world. They are anti-Zionist and pro-anti-Semitic. They are sympathetically inclined towards the BDS campaign. They are often hostile towards traditional Judaism and Orthodox Jews.

And they are scope-locked on their goal of taking over or neutralizing the large American Jewish organizations.

Facing these activists are the leaders of the large organizations. Many are retirement age or nearing retirement age. Many have failed to cultivate or recruit competent successors. Many are simply weak. The constituents these leaders serve – or don’t serve – are largely uninvolved, and unaware of what is happening.

Six years ago, these radical activists tried to bring J Street, (the anti-Israel group that supports the Palestinians and supports the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran) into the Conference of Presidents. Their efforts failed. Only 17 of the conference’s 52 members voted in favor. The activists behind the move reacted with rage to the vote. Conference of Presidents leaders and leaders of member organizations were vilified in the media. Most of them are unwilling to relive the experience. And whereas the J Street vote was by secret ballot, Tuesday’s vote will be a rollcall vote on a Zoom meeting.

So six years after their J Street defeat, not only is the anti-Israel left expected to gain a foothold in the Conference of Presidents on Tuesday. It is expected to take over the Conference of Presidents.

The Conference of Presidents isn’t alone. In 2014, Abraham Foxman retired from his position as president of the Anti-Defamation League after 28 years. Foxman did not groom a successor. In the event, he was replaced by Jonathan Greenblatt, an Obama White House alumni and environmental activist with no history of Jewish organizational work.

Since taking over, Greenblatt has transformed the ADL into a post-Jewish political group. Rather than fight anti-Semitism on the right and on the left, the ADL makes light of rising anti-Semitism on the left while exaggerating the political power of anti-Semites on the right to advance a clear political agenda. ADL was one of the groups that nominated Lob for the chairmanship.

Then there is AIPAC. Since J Street was established in 2007 to compete with AIPAC and began lobbying Democratic lawmakers to diminish their support for Israel, AIPAC has been steeped in existential crisis.

Most of AIPAC’s members and donors are Democrats. Consequently, AIPAC’s leaders have shied away from opposing the party’s abandonment of Israel. In the rare instances where AIPAC has stood up to the rising anti-Israel forces in the Democratic Party, its protests have been followed rapidly by groveling apologies.

AIPAC President Betsy Korn was a member of the nominating committee that selected Lob.

At the rate the radical left is taking over major Jewish organizations, we can assume that within five years there will be a steep rise in the number of American Jewish groups that advocate on behalf of BDS. Our notion of a “friendly organization” will change from an organization that advances Jewish interests and supports Israel to an organization that simply doesn’t work against Jewish interests or oppose Israel.

Israel can fight this trend. But to do so it needs representatives in the U.S. that will be willing to confront powerful, Jewish extremists on the left and empower and inspire the silent, exhausted and uninvolved Jewish majority.

Originally published in Israel Hayom.

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