The ongoing controversy over the actions of Peter Stein and the SFJFF continues to “fester” Below, please find:
1. Letter of Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC director, that appeared in J.
2. My comments, deconstructing Rabbi Kahn’s letter.
3. Comments by others, from J web site.
In a later communication, I will make specific recommendations of what is needed to resolve this controversy. These accounts have been posted at SFJFF Watch,
JCRC director says, ‘Rachel’ rousers are off-track with attack on Federation
Even though the “Rachel” event at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival was more than two months ago, it continues to fester.
Specifically, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, one of many institutions that have supported the festival with modest grants, has been targeted by a small group of activists.
It is one of the most unfair attacks against a Jewish institution I have witnessed in my 30 years as a Jewish communal professional — and I must respond.
Although most of our community has not weighed in about the wrong-headed decision of the SFJFF — a remarkable though sometimes uncomfortably edgy cultural institution — to politicize the showing of “Rachel,” this group of activists has decided to beat up on the Federation repeatedly because it did not capitulate to their demands.
As a result of an e-mail campaign and, most recently, a video that distorted the Federation’s role, the Federation has received waves of e-mails from community members expressing their concern about its alleged support for anti-Israel organizations (along with a considerable number of supportive e-mails).
Some of the critical, and too often uncivil, e-mails suggest that the Federation is encouraging or supporting anti-Israel activism.
Let’s get real. The Jewish Community Federation for decades has done everything possible to build support for Israel, mobilize the community to contribute to special funds during times of crisis, grow the connection between younger Jews and Israel, and strengthen Israeli society.
Our Federation was the first in the country to establish an Israel office to deepen the relationship further and the first to create a confirmation class trip to Israel as a rite of passage. It has one of the most active and innovative Israel Centers in the country. And it continues to present Israel in the Gardens at a time when other communities have quietly eliminated the largest annual show of solidarity with Israel.
In addition, the Federation also dispenses millions of dollars each year to local educational, social service, cultural and other community institutions that touch people’s lives from cradle to grave.
But given the subject of the attack, the focus here is on the Federation’s critical role in sustaining our community’s commitment to Israel.
JCRC receives Federation funds that enable us to mount the most ambitious pro-Israel advocacy campaign in the country — critically important in an area inundated with anti-Israel activism.
Hillels receive funds that enable their staffs to reach out to students to participate in Birthright Israel programs. Day schools receive funds and increasingly incorporate Israel into their curriculum. If the Federation is held responsible for the decision of an agency to co-present films with groups whose views and
behavior on Israel most of us find repugnant, then it should also be credited for every pro-Israel action by an agency it supports. That is only fair.
Let’s look at the facts.
• Many mainstream Jewish organizations and foundations sponsor, co-sponsor and co-present at the SFJFF.
• The Federation made clear its strong concerns about the “Rachel” event soon after the program came to light.
• The Federation does not endorse the co-presenters (American Friends Service Committee and Jewish Voice for Peace) of the “Rachel” event or their views on Israel. Indeed, Federation finds the views anathema and vigorously opposes the boycott/divestment/sanctions movement against Israel.
• The e-mail campaign targeting the Federation has resulted in hundreds of wasted hours — hours that could have been devoted to growing the community instead have been used to respond to unfair attacks.
• The Federation is committed to working with SFJFF leadership to ensure that the kind of polarization that resulted from the 2009 festival does not repeat.
Federation leaders represent a broad diversity of views, but in giving of themselves tirelessly, they have a common goal: to grow the strongest possible Jewish community to secure our future here, in Israel and throughout the world.
In fact, Israel activists should embrace the work of the Federation — now more than ever.
So what should happen now? The SFJFF, an important community institution with a strong following, has to take specific steps to repair the breach and rebuild trust with many in the community who were profoundly and rightfully upset.
The Federation has to ramp up its marketing and outreach efforts about the multiple ways in which it promotes a positive image of Israel.
Also, rather than leave the discussion to those with the strongest and loudest views, the voices of moderation in our community need to weigh in much more.
The vociferous e-mailers need to channel their tremendous energy into disciplined pro-Israel activist efforts so that we can put pressure on Israel’s true detractors rather than some of its champions.
Let’s all step back, take a breath and think about how all those who care deeply about Israel — from left to right — can work together in the coming year to achieve common goals. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Rabbi Doug Kahn is the executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. JCRC is a beneficiary agency of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federationeration.
Response by Lawrence W. White MD
I am disappointed that Rabbi Doug Kahn found it necessary to use condescending language, as well as to allege non-moderate behavior by those who disagree with Federation failures. In expressing his "outrage", he has unfortunately confused the issues and added to the feelings of frustration of many in the pro-Israel community.
Rabbi Kahn is a highly capable individual, but cleverness and flowery rhetoric will not cover up the errors of omission that Federation has committed. Let us deconstruct his remarks.
He complains that the issue "continues to fester". This is because it has never been dealt with in an honest and effective manner. When there is significant disagreement, the Federation and the JCRC cannot expect the community to simply accept their "wisdom" without demurral. .
“Targeted by a small group of activists". Contrary to his claim, this is neither a small nor a fringe group, but the great majority of Israel supporters in the Bay area who have finally grown weary of having their concerns regarding the film festival ignored year after year. .
"Unfair attacks against a Jewish institution". The involved Jews have been both patient and fair. We are not a bunch of Molotov cocktail throwing crazies. We simply ask the Federation (and the JCRC) to stop obscuring the issues and deliberately missing the point. Rather we ask that you speak to the legitimate concerns of those of us battling the anti-Israel forces in our community.
“the SFJFF — a remarkable though sometimes uncomfortably edgy cultural institution". Sorry, the board members of the film festival have been selected more on political grounds than any other. Indeed, the film festival is more political than cultural. There was no culture or aesthetics in “Rachel” or in the discussion with Cindy Corrie, who has a single minded agenda. Further the film festival CEO has been disdainful of, and has ignored the criticisms that have occurred, year after year.
"To politicize the showing of “Rachel,” Rabbi Kahn, have you seen this film? It is not the critics who have politicized the showing. The last thing the critics are looking for when they attend screenings of the SFJFF is a political controversy. But in this case, “Rachel” itself is a political screed, and the decision to show it and to invite Cindy Corrie was a political act by Peter Stein that was a serious blow to those of us who seek to promote a fair solution to the conflict in the Middle East
“This group of activists has decided to beat up on the Federation repeatedly because it did not capitulate to their demands.” This wording is very unfortunate, and I expect better from a professional in our community. The statement is gratuitous and completely misses the point.
It’s like saying that the black community beat up on the KKK because they did not capitulate to their demands to stop lynching. No, we are frustrated by the actions of Federation because they are unwilling to act as a moral force in the the Jewish community. Federation has held itself out as being the voice of the community. In this case you failed a large segment of the community.
A key point here is that this is not really a demand, but rather a conviction that we will not continue to donate to Federation, when the money is misused in this way. We can accomplish the same goals by giving directly to the organizations that are focused on the issues that matter to us.
"As a result of an e-mail campaign and, most recently, a video that distorted the Federation’s role” There is no explanation of how Rabbi Kahn believes that the video distorted the role of Federation. This is simply an assertion, not an argument with evidence.
"The Federation has received waves of e-mails from community members expressing their concern about its alleged support for anti-Israel organizations" Not alleged. If you give the unfortunate actions of the film festival your imprimatur by donating even a small amount of money, then the support is not “alleged”. The Federation is looked to as a force that showcases the values of the community. (And Federation certainly presents itself as if that is the case) At a time when Israel is being subjected to the worst forms of dishonesty, defamation, and calumny, while the Jewish state is abused with one libel after another, we expect that our Federation will in no way give support to the voices of hatred in our community.
It does no good to say that Federation does not agree with the positions of JVP or ISM, when it supports (and the amount of support is irrelevant) a film festival that has JVP as a sponsor, and invites a representative of the ISM to be an honored guest at a screening.
"Some of the critical, and too often uncivil, e-mails suggest that the Federation is encouraging or supporting anti-Israel activism." There are errors of commission and errors of omission. This is one of deliberate omission. The absence of clear denunciation of the role of JVP and other organizations, and the failure to unequivocally be in the vanguard of those defending the Jewish state, leads to only one conclusion.
"The Jewish Community Federation for decades has done everything possible to build support for Israel” Yes, but past actions are not the point. You are being judged by your failure to react to this issue, one which we consider to be vitally important at a critical time for the Jewish state. No one disputes the good work of Federation in the past. But if Federation also fails in a vital part of its mission, that needs to be judged on its own merits.
“Many mainstream Jewish organizations and foundations sponsor, co-sponsor and co-present at the SFJFF”. Well, yes, and Germany produced Beethoven, Brahms, and Goethe, so why dwell on the National Socialists?
"The Federation made clear its strong concerns about the “Rachel” event soon after the program came to light" No, their concerns were neither strong nor really very clear, and occurred only after criticism came from the community. Federation’s role should be to lead, not react. .
“The Federation does not endorse the co-presenters (American Friends Service Committee and Jewish Voice for Peace) of the “Rachel” event or their views on Israel” Why not say so at the time? Why only now? Why not use your moral standing to get those co-presenters removed?
“The e-mail campaign targeting the Federation has resulted in hundreds of wasted hours.” These wasted hours could have been avoided by being more responsible and less devious"
“The Federation is committed to working with SFJFF leadership" Sorry. We believe these are empty words. The only leadership involved in this fiasco is Peter Stein, who works alone, does not consult his board who were kept in the dark about the two films in question, and has shown no sign of understanding the issues Further, he really doesn't care, as long as you continue to indulge him as you have year after year.
"Federation leaders represent a broad diversity of views" Yes, but there are certain red lines that must not be crossed. . I don’t believe Federation leaders are ready to see Israel go down the tubes, but JVP (whose director was on the board of SFJFF) is willing to. You can’t keep invoking “diversity”.
“So what should happen now? The SFJFF, an important community institution with a strong following, has to take specific steps to repair the breach and rebuild trust “ Unfortunately the film festival CEO believes that it has already done this in their recent mailing containing a non-apology. I have not heard Federation suggest that this falls short. At this point, it is clear that very specific steps are indeed required, the first being to secure Peter Stein's resignation. Anything short of this will only guarantee a repeat further down the line.
Let me be clear. Peter Stein is a decent and intelligent man. But given his actions and inclinations he should not be directing a Jewish film festival.
“The Federation has to ramp up its marketing and outreach efforts about the multiple ways in which it promotes a positive image of Israel." Start by declaring that Federation won’t support in any way those who advocate sanctions boycott, or divestment.
“Also, rather than leave the discussion to those with the strongest and loudest views, the voices of moderation in our community need to weigh in much more”. Most of those who are speaking out on this issue have indeed been voices of moderation. To imply otherwise is an attempt to silence the critics by using pejorative language. That there are many who are displeased by Federation behavior does not make them radicals or extremists. You would be advised to avoid projecting an attitude of scorn and ridicule on those who are concerned about this issue.
“The vociferous e-mailers need to channel their tremendous energy into disciplined pro-Israel activist efforts" More scorn and ridicule being delivered from on high. Well, perhaps you haven’t noticed. The emailers are precisely those persons in the community who have been active in “pro-Israel efforts”. Otherwise they wouldn’t care about this issue.
“Let’s all step back, take a breath and think about how all those who care deeply about Israel — from left to right — can work together in the coming year to achieve common goals. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.” Flowery rhetoric is no substitute for the simple actions that have been urged on Federation. No one has asked for anything unreasonable.
Posted by Abraham Miller
10/10/2009 at 11:40 AM
Let's Get Real
Let’s get real, Rabbi Khan; prior good deeds do not give you license to participation in a program that demonizes Israel (Rachel) and casts aspersions on the work of anti-defamation organizations (Defamation). You compelling logic is equivalent to saying Mussolini got the trains to run on time, so all else is forgiven.
Posted by Zvi_Alon
10/11/2009 at 08:08 PM
Poll the comunity - I will pay
Dear Rabbi Kahn,
I appreciate this type of communication, more than the silence the JCRC and the Federationeration adopted in the last 2 month.
I believe you have made a sincere effort in composing you response – as you said – you had to do it since this issue is “festering” and is driven by a “small” number of “activists”.
So, my dear Rabbi, the use of festering is telling the true story – can you not come out and say – we (I and the JCRC) realize we have made a mistake – this time all lines have been crossed and we did not take the proper action earlier! Hence we are going to fix it once and for all. We now realize what five SFJFF board members who resigned from its board realized that the SFJFF cannot be supported in its current mission and structure and a true change is required.
Let me assure you that this is not a small group of activists, but a large group that wants to work with the JCRC and the Federationeration and jointly set a very clear water mark so that this will NEVER repeat in the FUTURE.
You say most of us find this behavior “repugnant” but you fail to say that YOU (I) find it equality repugnant and you (I) will NOT let this happen again; that YOU will organize the community to stop this and channel the communities energy in the right direction – in other words – apply proper judgment and lead this change personally.
You enumerate the good the Federationeration is doing. Let me share my view, and I am not alone, that I am NOT AGAINST the Federationeration, the SFJFF or the JCRC. All are doing good things – but this is NOT the issue and please stop changing the topic of discussion.
If one ignores a red traffic light only once out of 100 times should they not get a ticket?
If one avoids paying Tax only once out of 1000 times should they not be punished?
If one’s child uses deadly drugs only once in 10000 times should the parents look sideways?
You will answer the above questions the same way we will, the “small” group of “activists”.
Dear Rabbi Kahn,
Start leading, by embracing the fact that a mistake was made. You should lead the effort in getting the Federationeration to adopt a simple resolution that will state very clearly that “The Federationeration should never support organizations, events or participate in funding any activities that demonize Israel or that collaborate with those who call for divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel”.
This is not about a marketing campaign you are recommending to lunch, we do not need to get retrained; reprogrammed or re-educated. We need our leaders to have the muscle to do the right thing.
If you think that we represent a small and noisy group, then go ahead and, issue an open poll to the Jewish community which is as simple as the following:
- - - - - - - - -
Please vote YES or NO on the following question.
Should the Federationeration adopt a simple resolution that reads?
The Federationeration should never support organizations, events or participate in funding any activities that demonize Israel or that collaborate with those who call for divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel
Yes ____ No ____
- - - - - - - - -
The results of this poll will help guide you, the Jewish organizations and all of us; if you need help the same resolution can be adopted by ALL Jewish organizations including SFJFF, JCRC and others.
I will finance these efforts and make it very transparent eliminating the need for long approval process by committees etc.
Is this not a true democracy?
A very concerned Jew
Posted by john
10/09/2009 at 10:38 AM
Doug Kahn miscasts the issue.
The issue is not the Federationeration it is the Film festival event, and the Federationeration’s lack of proper response.
The Film Festival glamorized the pro-Hamas ISM. It also co-sponsored its Federationeration funded event with the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Those extreme anti-Israel organizations repeatedly call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
By virtue of its ongoing support of the Film Festival, the Jewish Federationeration continues to lend legitimacy to those extreme anti-Israel groups with whom the Festival had been collaborating, as well as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which is glamorized in the event.
The whole issue would be behind us if the Federationeration would adopt a policy ensuring that it will not fund organizations that demonize Israel or that collaborate with extremist anti-Israel groups advocating boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
The issue is prolonged because the Federationeration leadership fails to respond to the issue.
One would have expected the JCRC Director to lead the effort to stop the support of organizations that defame the Jewish state, and collaborate with groups that call for divestment and boycotts of Israel.
Instead, Doug Kahn is trying to camouflage the Federationeration’s failure to respond in a fashion which will ensure that the Federationeration support will not be misused as is done at the Film Festival.
The Jewish Federationeration is an important institution in our community, and it is essential that it not support any events that involve groups that advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. We all have the responsibility to speak up when we believe the Federationeration has misallocated our donations.
That is the issue, and Doug Kahn is evading it!
The Jewish community deserves much better from its Federationeration leadership!
Posted by john
10/09/2009 at 10:58 AM
Can one imagine an African
Can one imagine an African American Federationeration supporting a Film Festival with an event glamorizing the KKK, and co-presenting it with the Aryan Nation? How can the Jewish Federationeration continue to justify allocating donations raised from the Jewish community to fund a Film Festival whose programming is glamorizing the Pro-Hamas ISM and is done in collaboration with extreme anti-Israel organizations?
No mainstream Jewish organization should fund an organization or event that demonizes Israel or that collaborates with extremist anti-Israel groups that advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Posted by Ron Feldman
10/09/2009 at 02:06 PM
I’m glad that Doug has at least taken the time to respond in writing which neither he nor Federationeration representatives did to my e-mail.
However, his response amongst others in the SF Jewish Community is not sufficient and is largely irrelevant. The Federationerations other activities in support of Israel are NOT the issue, it is the Federationeration’s lack of a backbone to stand up for Israel within the San Francisco community that’s the issue.
It’s not the first time and the Federationeration is not alone. Most of the area synagogues and Jewish organizations do not stand up for Israel when it is attacked in our community. Instead they leave it to poorly funded small groups like SF Voice For Israel to be the only strident pro-Israel voice in the community.
As the other commenters mention, all that the Federationeration needed to have done in this instance was come out clearly to condemn the SFJFF and to state unequivocally that future funding for that organization and others that pull similar stunts would be at risk. Instead, to mollify the liberal anti-Israel community at large, the Federationeration and other organizations used bland “diplomatic” language that achieved nothing. Israel is under continuous attack in our country and particularly in SF. If the Federationeration can’t stand up for it, then my money will go elsewhere. Doug - your defense of this grave error is sad and embarrassing.
Posted by Jack Kessler
10/10/2009 at 08:02 AM
Answering a Question with a Question
Della D admits, which Rabbi Kahn does not, that the SFJFF “made a mistake” in showing “Rachel” And we should “get over it”. Does Della realize that this is not an isolated event but a persistent decades long pattern at the Film Festival?
The Film Festival has been running the nastiest anti-Israel films it could find year after year. Every year we object and every year Doug Kahn writes these same evasive denials.
Maybe it’s time that the Film Festival stop making the same “mistake” year after year. Maybe it is time for Doug Kahn to either put an end to it or resign.
What difference does it matter who else funds the Film Festival? How does that excuse Federationeration funding the screening of hate-Israel flims?
How does calling those who object, “bullies” and “martyrs”, excuse the Federationeration’s actions?
How is calling names an argument?
Posted by Jack Kessler
10/10/2009 at 06:27 AM
Why Didn't Federationeration Just Say 'No'?
Rabbi Kahn’s response is a masterpiece of evasion, and changing the subject. The fact is that the SFJFF sponsors an anti-Israel film festival. The Film Festival is anti-Israel EVERY YEAR. And every year we get these double-talk denials. It simply does not matter what else the board does if it persists in funding anti-Israel propaganda.
“Corrie” isn’t “edgy” as Rabbi Kahn so cutely and dishonestly put it. It is a deliberate statement of hatred of Israel.
Since Rabbi Kahn either can’t or won’t take responsibility for his actions, perhaps it is time for someone else to head the JCRC