(illustrative) PM Lapid meets with US Jewish leaders
(illustrative) PM Lapid meets with US Jewish leadersAvi Ohayon / GPO

Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser, EDS. Betrayal: The Failure of American Jewish Leadership (New York: Post Hill Press, 2023) ISBN: 978-1-63758-878-9

Alex Grobman, PhD

“This book is long overdue,” assert Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser, the editors of this very significant and timely work (Betrayal: The Failure of American Jewish Leadership,New York: Post Hill Press, 2023 ISBN: 978-1-63758-878-9). Why? Because of “The failure of the American Jewish establishment to counter the growing hostility toward the Jewish community,” which “is endangering Jews across the country. This failure is scandalous.”

How did the American Jewish community come to be in such a precarious position? The Jacobs and Goldwasser claim “It is due to a lack of understanding of why Jews are hated and face growing hostility, along with the leaders’ obvious lack of courage. At this time, when strong leadership is urgently needed, we have weak, politicized bureaucrats too often more concerned with their social status, the perks of power, and their organizations’ financial success than with their responsibility to defend the community. As can be seen in their priorities, staffing, and programs, they seem more loyal to a progressive ideology than to the safety of Jews. Refusing to acknowledge the current ugly realities, they double down on failed strategies, hoping foolishly that increased effort will result in success.”

While acknowledging “Jews cannot control the forces arrayed against us, but one thing we should be able to do is influence our own leadership,” Jacobs and Goldwasser declare. And “It is clear that the establishment Jewish organizations —the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, regional Federations, Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country, Union for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and most rabbis—have failed to respond effectively to these mounting assaults.”

“Ironically, for too many American Jews,” they note, “the democratically elected leaders of the Jewish state can be pilloried time and again, but the undemocratically, donor-selected leaders here may not be questioned as this would “break Jewish unity.”
The objective of this collection of 22 essays is to analyze the failure of the Jewish establishment in an open and objective manner. The authors recognize that many Jews will oppose such public criticism, which will be viewed as divisive and will urge a more unified approach instead. Such overt rebuke has been “a near taboo,” yet when Jewish leaders are “right wing Jews,” reproaching them is frequent and even acceptable. “Ironically, for too many American Jews,” they note, “the democratically elected leaders of the Jewish state can be pilloried time and again, but the undemocratically, donor-selected leaders here may not be questioned as this would “break Jewish unity.”

Having worked for decades in the American Jewish community, Jacobs and Goldwasser believe it is their responsibility to alert their fellow Jews about what they have witnessed and the serious consequences of the policies, reasoning and actions of the Jewish establishment. They are convinced many American Jews share their profound concerns and are doing all they can to counteract these dangerous failures.

They describe the issues American Jews face today and how liberalism, which historically guided their approach, has been replaced by a destructive “progressive” ideology, cancel culture that has “seduced” most Jewish leaders. This occurred either because they are “oblivious, too conflict-averse,” or too “cowardly” to urge a change of course. “Most mainstream Jewish leaders are promoting universalist fantasies—but to bring ‘kumbaya’ to the arena of identity politics is to unilaterally disarm.”

Jew are being assailed by four major ideological groups:

[1] White nationalists who assault Jews in the name of white supremacy, holding them responsible for supporting multiculturalism and the surge of unlawful immigration that allows tens of thousands of undocumented migrants to enter the US.

[2] Black nationalists, who in the name of black liberation and “equity” attack Jews.

[3] Radical progressives and segments within the Democratic Party who promote Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and antisemitic critical race theory. They instigate an ideological assault on Israel and Jews “in the name of ‘social justice’ and Palestinian Arab nationalism. This attack is sort of a type of “virtuous Jew-hatred,” that is “socially acceptable and even fashionable,” and “not easily countered by facts, logic, or reason.”

[4] ) “Far too many Muslims, many from antisemitic cultures, embody an ancient religious hatred (the Jews rejected Muhammad) and are further inflamed by their tribal support of Palestinian Arabs. Islamic anti-Israel movements are funded by petrodollars mostly from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Dozens of imams in American mosques can be seen in videos preaching incitement and hatred of Jews. Muslims have attacked Jews on America’s streets.”

The unrelenting demonization of Jews in the media, on college campuses, in Congress, and (most recently) in K–12 education, is a wake-up call. To address this crisis, Jewish leaders need new ways to engage the entire American Jewish community in a candid dialogue. To help facilitate the process, the authors are creating a national network of Jewish community activists, “many of whom have been generally ignored, canceled, or suppressed by the Jewish establishment.” These activists will assist in developing new strategies for by challenging local Jewish leadership.

Given today’s realities, the authors urge Jewish leadership to adopt ten measures:

1. Immediately declare a state of emergency and mobilize the community.

2. Increase physical security to protect Jews, not just Jewish institutions.

3. Prioritize Jewish communal resources for the protection of the community.

4. Educate the public about the nature of today’s anti-Semitism, and deconstruct poisonous academic and social theories which demonize and marginalize Jews.

5. Rethink Holocaust education and make it relevant to contemporary Jew-hatred.

6. Educate Jewish youth about the threat to their future.

7. Make Jewish religious education affordable.

8. Build alliances based on mutual interests and honest reciprocity.

9. Experiment with alternative solutions to find out what is effective.

10. Develop a new leadership class which is willing to fight for the community.

A Final Note

One cannot underestimate the importance of this volume written by academics, activists and professionals and edited by Dr Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser, to whom we owe an immense debt of gratitude. Their collective analysis and insights are frightening because they truly understand the ominous problems facing American Jews and the correctives needed to be made before it is too late. Whether their dire warnings will be heeded remains to be seen.

Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.