March 24, 2005
Listen to What the Machers Are Saying
Sounds like the Jewish people need to have their mouths washed out with soap. Not all the Jewish people, of course. But quite a few of them. At least quite a few of those in the category of macher.
It's important you know what they've been saying, because they are those who lead us, who control the Jewish agenda, control the Jewish purse, who those outside the Jewish world look to as representing the Jewish world.
It's important you know, because then maybe you'll do what way too few Jews do these days -- namely, get outraged. See what's going on, what's being done in your name and say something about it, do something about it.
Jews have a deserved rep for being contrary, for being argumentative, for being curmudgeonly. And yet, today, we all seem to have a bad case of Jewish politically correct fever.
Meaning, everyone is afraid to say anything that isn't totally PC -- meaning totally bland, meaning totally meaningless.
And because everyone is afraid to say anything about the powers that are, we are in the mess we are in, in terms of Jewish disunity, in terms of making Judaism attractive to young Jews, in terms of making Judaism relevant in the 21st century.
Which is why it's so important you hear what some of our leaders have been saying lately.
To start, listen to the words of one Alon Pinkas. Until recently, Pinkas was Israel's consul general in New York, the Jewish state's representative to the largest Jewish community in the world.
For reasons I never understood, supporters of Israel thought this guy was great, loved seeing him on TV standing up for Israel. He frankly was never my cup of tea, and I said so in a column, for which, of course, I was criticized. One simply does not question who Israel sends to represent it.
In any case, after several years of serving in New York, here is what Pinkas said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. He said that American Jews treat Israel like a "goddamn synagogue," and that the behavior of American Jewish organizational officials reads like a chapter out of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
If a non-Jew had said that, the Jewish press releases would have been flying. But here were such vile remarks about American Jews being made by one of Israel's highest-ranking diplomats, by the guy they sent to New York to be Israel's guy.
Tells you a lot.
Next, we have two Israeli rabbis. One is Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who is no less than Israel's former Sephardic chief rabbi. He recently sent a pamphlet to thousands of synagogues in Israel declaring that the tsunami in Asia happened because of world support for Israel's plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
Yes, a rabbi whose word is law to many Israelis said that God killed maybe 300,000 innocent people in the tsunamis, because Sharon plans to move settlers out of Gaza. And he backed that up by citing a passage in the Talmud.
Then there is Rabbi Dov Lior, chief rabbi of the Yesha Council, the umbrella group of all West Bank and Gaza settlers. What did this ultimate rabbinic authority tell those settlers to do about the Gaza withdrawal? Resist it to the death.
"Better to die than disengage," he said. "To destroy the land and give over the Strip to the terrorists is against the Torah of Israel."
Better to die than disengage. This is what the settlers have been told by their top rabbi. Jewish leadership in action.
Which brings us to Edgar Bronfman. Bronfman is president of the World Jewish Congress and has been for more than 20 years. The World Jewish Congress (WJC) is an important organization, because it is seen by many world governments as the place to go to talk to the Jewish people.
When it was led by Nahum Goldmann and then Philip Klutznick, the WJC was a great organization led by Jewish statesmen.
But any doubt about what kind of "leader" Bronfman is should be dispelled by a recent article in New York magazine.
Now this is all a bit complicated, but here goes. Isi Leibler is one of the most honorable men in Jewish life. Leader of Australia's Jewish community, he has done much for Israel and the Jewish world. He is a true mensch and a true leader.
And for a long time, he was senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress. But then, Leibler discovered some serious financial hanky-panky going on at the World Jewish Congress involving bizarre bank transactions, stolen computer files, cover-ups, intimidation and millions of dollars. When he tried to uncover the wrongdoing and do something about it, Bronfman and his henchmen went into action.
They first smeared Leibler, calling him the ugliest of names. Then they made sure he was thrown out as vice president of the WJC.
The whole thing stunk to high heaven and offended many in the Jewish organizational world who knew Leibler to be a man of integrity and honor, and so stood up for him, and who joined in questioning WJC's questionable accounting practices and secretive management style.
But instead of reconsidering its actions, and doing teshuvah, Bronfman's WJC went ballistic.
Namely, Stephen Herbits, a Bronfman lackey who he just appointed as secretary general of the WJC, gave a profanity-laced interview to New York magazine, in which he torches any and all who dare to question Bronfman.
"As you talk to the leaders of other Jewish organizations, check their accomplishments against their governance. They've got perfect governance and no f---ing accomplishments." He then goes on to accuse other Jewish organizations of illegal activities -- such as misusing funds, lying to the government and offering bloated benefit packages -- and threatens to expose them if they aren't nice to Bronfman.
"They better be careful, because if they cause enough problems in the press ... then you'll see some real fireworks."
Amazing. A Jewish official, representing the top man at the World Jewish Congress, besmirching Jewish organizations and doing it in a magazine read by a whole lot of non-Jews.
"I don't remember another example of a spokesman for one Jewish organization making such mean-spirited, slash-and-burn comments about other organizations," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
He's right. And it's our own fault. Bronfman has been given a free ride by the Jewish world for decades, solely because he is worth billions and spends millions on Jewish causes, mostly on the World Jewish Congress.
And so, as king of the Jews, he figures he can do whatever and what the WJC does is nobody's business, and if anyone dares to question it, even someone as noble as Leibler, it's off with his head, and if other Jewish organizations come to Leibler's defense or raise questions about how Bronfman operates, well, then it's off with the gloves and on the record with New York magazine to say all Jewish organizations are crooked.
Ladies and gentlemen, all of the above is being done and said by those who are your leaders. Which is why maybe it's time you stopped being so PC and started being very outraged.
Joseph Aaron is editor of Chicago Jewish News.