A Plea for Civility… and Honesty

NIF-DIVISIVE-Cartoon

From the arrival of the first Jewish pioneers in this once remote corner of the continent, Seattle has been more so than not, a paragon of communal unity. Whether Reform, Orthodox, unaffiliated, Conservative, Ashkenazic or Sephardic, we huddled together – first in the same Central District neighborhood and later through our shared institutions.

We built and supported our legacy institutions together with little patience for contrived divisions or barriers. Whatever differences there may have been were subordinate to our shared legacy and mission.

Community Rally for Israel at Luther Burbank (2006)

Community Rally for Israel at Luther Burbank Park (2006)

Thus it is with sadness that we are today witness to a cynical, deliberate shattering of our communal heritage of tolerance and civility.

This divide and conquer mentality was dissected in our recent profile of Ben Murane, the public face of the New Israel Fund here in the Pacific Northwest. Using his very own words, readers were introduced to a stream of intolerance, profanity and what we see as a calculated manipulation of the Jewish community.

Not surprisingly, New Israel Fund (NIF) felt the need to respond – which they did in an op-ed featured in the October 3rd edition of the JTNews.

The article touches upon many of NIF’s standard critiques of the Jewish state, specifically what they perceive to be racist, misogynistic, theocratic forces which in their mind threaten Israel’s moral integrity and well being.  

Credited with penning the article, New Israel Fund leaders (and respected community members) Carol Gown and Jon Bridge juxtaposed their concerns regarding the future of Israel with an equally ominous alarm at the collapse of civility in our Seattle Jewish community.

In an attempt to reframe New Israel Fund as victim rather than  initiator of an assault on communal unity, Gown and Bridge declare their fellow NIF members to be subject to a “campaign of intimidation” that has “targeted Seattle Jews perceived as out of lockstep with Israel’s government”.

Those are powerful words and serious allegations; allegations that one would expect to be backed up with their best case examples. So what is this egregious “campaign of intimidation” to which these NIF members have been subjected?  It turns out that somebody, somewhere on the internet once described the New Israel Fund as “horrible” & “frightening”. That’s it, that’s the best they’ve got.

And this is not unexpected. We at The Mike Report as well as other local advocates and agencies targeted by the multimillion dollar resources of the New Israel Fund in my experience share a profound love of community and inherent respect for our fellow community members, whether we agree or disagree with them on the issues.

RallyIsrael2006a

Community Rally for Israel (2006) at Luther Burbank Park.

However, an actual NIF leader has labeled dedicated local Israel advocates as “distant right” wing, referred to Orthodox Rabbis as “A – – holes,” declared Israel to be on the same moral plane as Hamas, proclaimed Jewish institutions such as our Jewish day schools and Jewish Federation as “an entrenchment of race and class privilege” and our synagogues as “ghettos to lock out the goyim”.

Frankly it pains us to see good and decent community members and vital communal institutions referred to in such base terms. To borrow the words of Ms. Gown and Mr. Bridge “We aspire for a better communal conversation”.

When Israel is equated with Hamas by leaders of an organization whose multimillion dollar funding model relies on unleashing a constant stream of vitriol against the only Jewish state, we are obligated to speak up. This is not divisive, it is not “distant right wing” or distant left wing for that matter, but it is moral, right and proper.

We are confident that even without the ample monetary resources of New Israel Fund and sister organizations J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, the truth can still compete and compete well in the marketplace of ideas. Rather than resorting to name calling, spurious accusations, divisiveness and demonization, we urge Israel’s local Jewish critics to instead focus on reality and facts. Make your best case in a civil and respectful fashion, we’ll do the same, and let the community decide.

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