Barry Shrage backtracks


Remember that Harvard IsraelTrek trip-up at Arafat''s grave?



A trek that is advertised like this one:


There have been a good few comments on the wisdom of visiting the grave of a terrorist, of looking silly-stupid with those smiles, with giving in to what is supposed was a Pal. demand to visit otherwise, perhaps, no access, et al.


I was sent two memos issued by the man responsible, ultimately, for the money for the trip.


The first one contained these texts:


TO:               Board of Directors, Past Board Members             
FROM:          Barry Shrage
DATE:           March 20, 2014       
SUBJECT:     A response to recent attacks on CJP and our Harvard Student “Trek” to Israel
Yesterday CJP and a group of deeply committed student leaders were the subject of vicious attacks by ideologically motivated bloggers from across the country.  The bloggers took one photo out of context to smear our Federation and a group of students whose only motivation was to tell Israel’s story and connect their fellow students to Israel in all its beauty and complexity.
...The blog that you may have seen attacking the “trek” is a good example of the terrible polarization within the American Jewish community where a few bloggers at the extreme edge of the Jewish community can demonize those who try  to deal honestly with the complexities of life in Israel.
We at CJP are committed to continuing to work to bring both Jews and non-Jews to Israel...
Now, that is a vicious counter-attack.  Barry Shrage is really angry.  And extreme.  And demonizing.  And ideological.  And polarizing.
And wrong.
And he needed quickly to backtrack in a second memo:
Our staff and volunteers worked hard on our response and the Harvard College Israel Trek leaders in Israel worked all night on their thoughtful reply to the distortions that threatened their work and their mission...
In yesterday’s message I emphasized the dangers of bloggers and others who use the power and reach of the internet to distort meaning...The Jewish community and the State of Israel are beset by many enemies, who privately wish for and publicly call for our eradication. They hardly need the assistance of some who are eager to spread distortions and facts taken out of context far and wide on the internet.
But  I failed to also point out that bloggers can serve a useful purpose.  They can closely monitor the work of the Jewish community.  Bloggers who operate with adherence to facts and proper context keep us on the right track and expose weaknesses that, if addressed can ultimately strengthen our community.   The picture that set off the controversy was originally posted by one such writer, Daniel Mael, a student at Brandeis who is also, like our student leaders on the Trek a strong supporter of Israel who has fought for Israel throughout his high school days (at Gann) and now at Brandeis.  His blogging throughout the day was honest and straightforward and actually strongly supportive of the mission while also expressing his shock at the picture at Arafat’s grave.  I’m afraid that my email yesterday unfairly placed him and perhaps many others in the company of some who were far less fair minded and for that I apologize.
Finally I need to say that I and many others were deeply shocked by the photo at Arafat’s grave...the photo at the grave was deeply offensive. Yasser Arafat was a vicious terrorist who caused the death of thousands of innocents but in addition, his hatred of Israel caused him to destroy a promising peace process and the hopes and dreams of Israelis and Palestinians alike for peace between our peoples...
Shabbat Shalom and Best wishes for a  beautiful and meaningful Passover.
Barry Shrage
Backtrack?  He actually apologized.
Of course, he was wrong about a lot of things but that isn''t the real problem (although I hope the four tour mentors will be debriefed to find out the truth about that Ramallah visit).
The really problem is that that flipflop above was certainly not indicative of strong, committed, responsible and dedicated leadership.  It was not only a defensive lashing out but it was done indiscriminately and itself added to a polarizing attitude.  I do not know Mr. Shrage (who seems to have been a community worker since 1968 and since 1987, has served as President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP) so I do not know if he is of the left or the normative Jewish establishment mold, which is almost the same thing, although he did oppose Peter Beinart.
I would suggest, though, that he consider moderating himself, otherwise, someone on his board may request his resignation.