Special to The Mike Report: With Israel under fire where was Seattle’s Federation?
Guest writer Steve Hemmat ponders the response of Seattle’s Jewish Federation to an Israel under attack.
For nearly three weeks, the people of Israel have been under a relentless barrage of rocket and missile attacks from Hamas in Gaza. Fortunately, Israel has developed a defensive system called “Iron Dome” that has destroyed many of the rockets before they hit populated areas. However, Israel has suffered civilian casualties as well as a population terrorized by incessant sirens and hurried flight to bomb shelters. Israel has sent the Israel Defense Forces into Gaza in a ground operation, sustaining dozens of casualties in order to stop the Hamas attacks as well as eliminating the many tunnels dug by Hamas throughout Gaza with the intent of infiltrating Israel and murdering its people.
Throughout major metropolitan cities in North America, Jewish communities have banded together to hold large public rallies in support of Israel to send a clear and unequivocal message: “We support you and stand in solidarity with you.” Photographs and videos of these rallies bolster the morale of those under attack by Hamas missiles and rockets.
A large pro-Israel rally organized by Rob Jacobs of StandWithUs Northwest, was held at Occidental Park in Seattle on July 20th and was attended by well over 500 people. However, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle was conspicuously absent as a co-sponsor of the event.
When this author contacted the CEO of the Seattle Jewish Federation, he was told that the Federation wasn’t given enough time to plan and execute the rally. He explained that when one works with multiple organizations, it takes a lot of time to get the needs and wants of everybody met and to come to consensus. While the Seattle Federation sent out email notices of the rally, it did not cosponsor it.
Instead the following Monday after the rally. the Seattle Federation reached out the Washington Coalition of Rabbis (constituting Conservative and Reform Rabbis), the New Israel Fund and J Street among others to discuss and plan a proposed program. Here is the result:
“A Community Gathering for Israel will be held in Seattle on Sunday, July 27, from 11 am to noon, at Congregation Beth Shalom. Gather with members of the Seattle Jewish community as we join in solidarity with the people and state of Israel and the families of soldiers who grieve, mournful at the loss of all human life and prayerful about a lasting and sustainable end to conflict.”
So after three weeks of conflict in Israel and the deaths and injuries of dozens of IDF soldiers, the Seattle Federation is organizing a “Gathering” behind closed doors at Beth Shalom to grieve and be mournful “at the loss of all human life.” What message does this send to family and friends in Israel when our major Jewish agencies are unable to cosponsor an outdoor pro-Israel rally and wave an Israeli flag in public? Meanwhile anti-Israel protesters hold rally after rally lambasting Israel and Jews at Seattle’s Westlake Mall?
Such language is morally repugnant for it conveys the false equivalence of Hamas terrorists to the terrorists’ intended victims.
Moreover, what message is the Federation conveying by being “mournful at the loss of all human life?” Should we be mournful for the IDF’s elimination of Hamas terrorists who are trying to murder Israeli citizens (Jews, Arabs and Druze)? I think not; and for the Federation to issue this notice with such language is morally repugnant for it conveys the false equivalence of Hamas terrorists who seek to murder innocent people and the terrorists’ intended victims who simply want to live their lives in peace and quiet.
During the Passover Seder, we recite Ma Nishtanah – מה נשתנה – often referenced as the “Four Questions.” These questions are intended to highlight the distinctions between the Seder night and all other nights. In this tradition, I ask the Seattle Jewish Federation why is Seattle different from all other major metropolitan areas in North America? Why is the Seattle Jewish Federation not serving as the convener to organize, plan and execute a major pro-Israel rally with a clear and unapologetic message of standing with the people of Israel at this difficult time?
Steve Hemmat is a former Chair of the Planning & Allocations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and previously served on the Federation’s board and executive committee for many years.