American Jewish Leaders Betray Gaza's Jews

The majority of American Jewish leaders should be held accountable for gross misconduct, because their callous indifference to human suffering and injustice now amounts to criminal negligence.

Rachel Neuwirth,

Rachel Neuwirth
Rachel Neuwirth
The majority of American Jewish leaders should be held accountable for gross misconduct, because their callous indifference to human suffering and injustice now amounts to criminal negligence. Speaking in the name of the Jewish community, this leadership has violated Jewish religious teachings to bear witness to the truth and to show compassion for the persecuted. The latest victims of their criminal negligence are the Jewish expellees from Gaza. They are Jewish refugees, suffering immensely, and unnecessarily, inside their own country. Ariel Sharon committed the crime and this leadership provided silent acquiescence. For too long, this failed Jewish leadership has not been held accountable.

The fifty-two member Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations claims to speak in the name of the vast majority of American Jews. They operate by consensus and their decision was to support Ariel Sharon's "Disengagement Plan". The Zionist Organization of America opposed the plan with perhaps one more organization, along with some possible abstentions. Their web site, fails to list their member organizations, nor does it show how these organizations lined up on this issue. This prevents Jewish constituents from learning how their organizations voted and why. Criticism in this article is meant to apply to the large majority of members, while recognizing that a small minority acted more responsibly on their own, but could not sway the majority. This is not to imply that the constituent organizations are failing to contribute anything to Jewish life, rather it demonstrates how they failed massively to do what they could and should have done in this instance.

The Conference of Presidents home page features the following statements:
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is the voice of organized American Jewry -- the proven, effective advocate on issues of vital international and national concern.

Representing 52 national Jewish organizations from across the political and religious spectrum, the Conference provides a forum for deliberations of American Jewish leadership and a central address for key American, Israeli and other world leaders to consult on issues of critical concern to the Jewish community.
They are less "the proven, effective advocate" than timid followers of Sharon's schemes. Their claim to "provide[ ]a forum for deliberations" rings hollow. There is no record on their web site of any "deliberations". Visitors could not read the views of constituent organizations nor any of their "deliberations".

Their web site lists four official statements, in 2004 and 2005, all in support of Sharon's "Disengagement Plan". These statements were made prior to the actual expulsion and in the face of Sharon's many high-handed and undemocratic machinations to induce the corrupt, the coerced and the bribed in the government to go along with his plans. Despite all the many warnings of impending dangers and all the compelling criticisms over this plan, the Conference of Presidents paid no official heed, as described in a previous article, "American Jewish Leaders and the Gaza Withdrawal". Nor did they ever encourage a democratic and open debate within the American Jewish community, despite the immense importance of this issue.

Despite the huge opposition among Israelis, who mobilized the American equivalent of ten million peaceful protesters, the Conference of Presidents ignored this democratic demonstration. This action placed a heavy moral obligation on them to carefully set up a post-Disengagement monitoring to see that the 9,000 Jews were treated with compassion and given proper assistance following their expulsion.

If the Conference of Presidents had blind faith in Sharon's promises before the expulsion, they now have a double disaster aftermath staring them in the face. Sharon's promise of immediate greater security proved false, with Gaza now becoming a major terrorist base stockpiling more powerful weapons and more terrorists preparing for new assaults on Israel's citizenry. In addition, there is now a major human calamity that proportionally ranks with Hurricane Katrina (the 9,000 Jews expelled from Gaza are, for Israel, the American equivalent of nearly 500,000 men, women and children - a remarkably close match to Katrina).

The sad plight of these Jewish refugees has been widely reported in the Israeli media (see Caroline Glick's must-read Jerusalem Post article "The Jewish Refugees"; it depicts the heart-rending conditions and the brutal treatment by their own government that now confront these hapless people). To this day, the Conference of Presidents' web site remains silent. They carried news coverage during the preparations prior to the expulsion, although they never covered the compelling arguments against that expulsion. On the day of the expulsion, reporting on this story ceased as if the event never took place. Individual organizations such as Young Israel and the independent Americans for a Safe Israel sent missions to investigate the plight of the refugees. Remarkably and shamefully, the Conference of Presidents web site shows no interest in what happened to those who were expelled.

If the Conference of Presidents ignored the Jewish refugees, perhaps some constituent organizations showed some interest. Let's take a look.

The Reform movement is the largest Jewish denomination in America. Their web site contains a hurricane relief fund and "Dolls for Darfur" with members "urged to take action to help the refugees". Their social action program calls for "fighting poverty" and holding teach-ins. But 20% of Israelis already live in poverty and the Gaza refugees are also in great need. The Reform movement supported Sharon's "Disengagement" and now shows no interest in the fate of the Jewish refugees.

The Conservative movement is the second largest Jewish denomination. Their web site contains appeals for hurricane relief and for Darfur, Sudan. There is an appeal to send gift packages to friends and family in Israel and to IDF soldiers, but no mention of aid to the Gaza refugees.

The Orthodox movement is smaller than the Conservative. The Orthodox Union web site has a specific appeal for the Gaza refugees with the slogan, "Their Grief is Our Grief - Help Rebuild."

Hadassah calls itself the Women's Zionist Organization. Their web site had an appeal for hurricane relief, but nothing for the Gaza refugees. They were founded to provide medical and human services to Jews in Israel. With Jewish refugees facing a Katrina-size emergency in Israel, Hadassah is silent.

The Anti Defamation League (ADL) on their web site states: "To stop the defamation of the Jewish People... to secure justice and fair treatment to all" and "ADL fights hate, around the world, around the clock." Worthy slogans. But the Jews of Gaza have been cruelly defamed by members of their own government, both before and after their expulsion, with no justice or fair treatment. This assault should have mobilized the ADL into immediate action, but their director, Abe Foxman, would rather attack religious Christians in America than help fellow Jews in Israel.

The Zionist Organization of America's (ZOA) web site shows a collection of statements by the ZOA repeatedly warning against the dangers of the Gaza withdrawal. But there is no mention of the plight of the Jewish refugees.

Following the Tsunami in southeast Asia, the American Jewish leadership joined with the American government and international efforts to send massive help. American Jewry and the international community is responding to the tragedy in Darfur. The victims of Hurricane Katrina are being helped by the American government, along with Jewish organizations and various other international aid organizations. In stark contrast, the Jewish victims of Sharon's expulsion are receiving scant attention from the major American Jewish organizations. The burden of collecting relief items for the refugees is falling squarely upon the shoulders of ad hoc Jewish volunteers in America.

It is revealing to view the web sites of these major Jewish organizations, in that they project a wide variation in priorities and perception. Only a minority are clearly focused on Jewish security and the threats to Israel. Others are predominantly business-as-usual, with slogans and feel-good, politically correct statements. It is this self-congratulatory leadership that, over the last fifty years, turned a six-million-person strong American Jewish population into five million today. And this was despite three waves of Jewish immigration and the growth of the Orthodox community.

This abandonment of the Gaza Jewish refugees by the so-called "American Jewish leadership" is not an isolated aberration. It is entirely emblematic of the long-term dismal failure of American Jewish leaders to properly fulfill their responsibilities. It is not entirely clear if the Conference of Presidents accurately represents the views of their respective constituents.