Fundamentally Freund: Who represents American Jewry?

Foxman and friends seem to have forgotten that debate, discussion and yes, even disagreement are precisely what democracy is all about.

Obama speech with flags in background 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
Obama speech with flags in background 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
The American presidential election may be over a year away, but two leading Jewish organizations are already gearing up to assist Barack Obama in his effort to win a second term.
In a highly unusual move, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) have joined forces to launch what is being billed as a “National Unity Pledge for Israel.”
The document, which is being widely circulated to garner signatures, ostensibly seeks to promote bipartisan support for Israel. It says “the Jewish community has had a strong interest in ensuring that American support for Israel is one of the critical strategic issues that unites rather than divides parties and officials,” and speaks of the need for American voices to be “raised together in unshakable support for our friend and ally.”
Don’t let all the gallant fluff about unity fool you.
This pledge has far more to do with domestic American politics than it does with preserving Israel’s standing in public opinion.
It is nothing less than a nakedly transparent attempt by liberal American Jews to bolster President Obama’s sagging support among members of the tribe and deflect criticism from his hostile record toward Israel.
Ever so subtly, the document suggests that the “US-Israel friendship should never be used as a political wedge issue.”
But behind that seemingly harmless rhetoric lies a far more calculated agenda, one that seeks to stifle debate and silence criticism of the Obama administration. A critical clue to the initiative’s real aim can be found in a statement that accompanied its release, by ADL national director Abraham Foxman.
“We want the discourse on US support for Israel to avoid the sometimes polarizing debates and political attacks that have emerged in recent weeks,” said Foxman, “as candidates have challenged their opponents’ pro-Israel bona fides or questioned the current administration’s foreign policy approach vis-à-vis Israel.”
Say what? Since when is there anything wrong with questioning a presidential administration’s approach to Israel? For decades, American Jews have stood up in defense of the Jewish state when presidents such as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush sought to manhandle Jerusalem. They have gone to the political barricades, lobbied congressmen and organized rallies, petitions and protests when needed.
There is something ludicrous and un-American for the ADL and AJC to now suggest that challenging Obama’s policy towards Israel is somehow damaging or detrimental. It defies logic and common sense and should be thoroughly spurned.
Foxman and friends seem to have forgotten that debate, discussion and yes, even disagreement are precisely what democracy is all about. There is no political, intellectual or moral justification for this heavy-handed attempt to hush up Obama’s critics.
Those behind the move should be ashamed of themselves.
THE TIMING of this “unity pledge” is hardly coincidental. Just last month, a survey conducted by AJC found a growing sense of dissatisfaction among American Jews with Obama and his policies.
For the first time since Obama was elected, the number of Jews expressing disapproval of his presidency exceeded those who voiced approval, by a margin of 48 to 45 percent.
And when asked for their opinion of his handling of US-Israel relations, 53% said they disapproved while just 40% supported him.
While Obama is still likely to win a majority of the Jewish vote, hardly anyone expects him to come close to winning the 78% that he is said to have won in 2008.
Among the general electorate Obama is facing an increasingly difficult political environment, even as his Jewish support is declining.
Hence the “unity pledge” proffered by the ADL and AJC.
The two groups, which generally compete with one another for press coverage, donors and prestige, have suddenly found common cause in trying to help the president.
By taking political sides and casting their lot with the Democratic incumbent, the ADL and AJC have revealed themselves to be partisan players rather than truly impartial Jewish organizations.
In this light, their pledge only demonstrates just how unrepresentative they truly are of American Jewry as a whole.
Instead of defending Jewish rights and interests, they are acting like an extension of the Obama campaign.
I believe many American Jews will see right through this ploy and reject it out of hand.
A growing number of them recognize that Obama is bad for Israel; it is crucial that they continue to hammer this message home in the run-up to next November.
Israel does indeed need broad bipartisan American backing and support. But it cannot come at the expense of the most basic freedom of all: the right to disagree.

The writer is chairman of Shavei Israel (, a Jerusalem-based organization that assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people.