Is Internal Division Tearing Down The Pro-Israel Community?

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A new phenomenon is taking the world by surprise with its intensity, rapid acceptance and success. It is called “J Street.”

Jewish Americans stand up to the traditional Israel Lobby and say: “We are here too. Listen to us, our viewpoint has validity. AIPAC is not the only voice of the Jewish people.” AIPAC, large, strong and very well endowed, stands at ease. First it dismissed J Street altogether, but now it has to start listening and adapt (or fight).

The money still keeps flowing into AIPAC, torrents unaffected as of yet. Does AIPAC have anything to worry about? Does Israel, who depends on the support of American Jewry, need to pay attention to the discord, confusion and internal division which tears the pro-Israel community in the Diaspora and assists Israel’s enemies?

It is fascinating to me that the same phenomenon is also happening locally: The Jewish Federation of Greater LA is dealing with a newcomer who, in a very short period of time, has gained amazing acceptance.

It is called the ILC-Israeli Leadership Council. IL Care, the Israeli-American Giving Community is a flagship project of the ILC: “Do Something for Someone (else).” It sounds exciting. It reminds us why organizations exist in the first place. It takes the helm, as a true leader should do: A leader does not wait to follow others, it sets the pace, and it establishes an example.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said: “By bringing together local Israelis, American-Israelis and Jewish Americans in the spirit of giving, I.L. Care contributes greatly to the well-being of our City.”

The ILC’s mission is to “build an active and giving Israeli-American Community in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to the American-Jewish community.” How? By serving as a role model, providing professional and financial resources, empowering the community and bridging communities.

Interestingly, these are many of the exact same things the Federation has been attempting to do over the decades. Even more fascinating is the fact that everyone is attracted to the ILC, including major donors competing among themselves who would give more, many of them American Jews, traditionally associated with the Federation, and-most important of all-the next generation.

The Federation will undoubtedly feel threatened. Maybe not immediately, but in the near future when substantial amounts of major contributions will be diverted away to the ILC. We may even start seeing some full-page ads in the Jewish Journal listing the areas of activity and accomplishments of the Federation, touting its own horn.

The Federation can dismiss the quick ascent of the ILC, or say the ILC is of no significance or that it poses no threat. This will quickly change, as the vitality and attractiveness of the ICL are palpable.

The Federation can formidably resist this newcomer and put resources toward fighting it, or it can embrace change. Before all, the ILC puts as its ideals the very notions that are most dear to the Federation: A strong community; support of Israel; strengthening and building the future.

Change, properly embraced, will benefit us all. It is time to trim some of the fat, get rid of some of the laziness and lose some of the inefficient redundancies in the Federation.

The Federation was never meant to be what it became. It was never meant to be an exclusive club, a Mount Olympus whose membership is steep and unaffordable, a Hillcrest Club for the Jews who were not accepted at the LA County Club.

One look at the history of Jewish LA on the mural on Canter’s wall in Fairfax shows what was important for us as a Jewish community in Greater Los Angeles in the mid 80s (and in fact from 1850 to 1985). The themes are the same and they are those for which ILC now carries the flag.

Open any paper and see the full-page ads for the Celebrate Israel Festival on April 29th. “New Place. New Look. New Faces.” But is it really new? No. It is exactly what it used to be decades ago, just better organized, better financed and much better attended. The Jews stayed away, they are now called back.

This is the hour for action. This is the hour for inclusion and uniting. It is not the time for bickering and fighting over the large donor pocketbooks (although quite inevitable).

New times are here, and the ILC is the new game in town.

It is time for the Federation to gather its best and brightest minds and set a blueprint for the future, for the next three decades, a general plan update of sorts. There are creative minds here. There are visionaries. There are people of action. There are leaders and there are foot soldiers. Unite them all to create a blueprint for our future.

Stay away from Israel. Politics are our great divide. Focus on the local community needs. Protect the young, serve the old. Emphasize education and service. Open up, and you will be much better off. Become one again and just as we used to be exceptional, we can be again.

Adapt, or else you are bound to disappear. Yes, it will take some time since you still control hundreds of millions of dollars. But you will find out that burning quickly through this treasure is not difficult to do. And then what?

In the meantime, I am off to the next gathering of the ILC, to which the leadership of all the Jewish and Israeli organizations is invited. Individuals will be there also. The “foot soldiers” too, those who are not the large donors or associated with a particular organization. There were neither excluded nor forgotten. It is in recognition of the fact that we are one community, and all the elements are cherished, that we share and participate, extend our hands in an embrace and expect devotion and willingness to act in return.

The days of the exclusive club are numbered. You used to listen only to the numbered few, those mega-donors, to the exclusion of everyone else. You focused on your idea of “Peace,” your interpretation of “Israel” (much left of center, to Israel’s detriment). This was not your charter, and you failed. It is under your watch that the Delegitimization became so commonplace. We all know now how to pronounce the word, yet remain unable to define its meaning.

You neglected those entrusted in your hands, Jewish education and a flourishing religious community of multiple practices. The children today are removed from Israel and its fate. They arrive at colleges and universities vulnerable, because you did nothing to prepare them. In your strive to be “all inclusive” in the Jewish Tent, you aided and abated enemies of Israel and the West on campuses.

You became so detached that Israel turned to the Christians for support rather than to us, the Diaspora Jews.

Locally, those in need are hurting, but the real question is not the temporary remedy, the band-aid one applies, but rather how to avoid ever being in this situation.

You became blinded by the shine of money, and you became secluded inside this magnificent building and the security that the real world was left outside. You were separated from the masses and focused on money. Take the hundreds of millions in the Federation’s coffers, pre- and post-Madoff, and do something with this money now.

Save the Jewish community before it is too late. Make it a healthy, united and focused body once again. With the strengthening tide against the Jewish people, if we are weak-just an empty building whose walls are eaten by termites-we will not withstand what is to come, we may not even survive.

The Federation and the ILC can work together well, but the roles are changing. The ILC will take the lead. The ILC is exciting and happening, attractive and luring. The Federation must think and redefine its role, or find itself redundant, unnecessary and unwanted.

In the series “Postcards from Israel,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related – the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts – and so is this “point – counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.