Yesterday, I wrote a post noting that Haaretz reported that the New York UJA-Federation withdrew its sponsorship for the Other Israel Film Festival. It is devoted to highlighting the Israeli Arab experience through film. When I read the Federation’s quoted reasons for withdrawing they ran hollow to me. Now I know it’s all bunkum.
Here’s what the Federation said:
A UJA-Federation spokesperson denied that the reason for the withdrawal of support was political or connected in any way with the festival’s content, citing a failure to receive approval through appropriate channels within the organization.
“A request was made to have UJA-Federation lend its name to help generate interest in the event. The request was granted although it did not go through the proper approval process,” a statement from the organization said.
This of course is gobbledy gook. How can the request have been granted while at the same time it didn’t go through the proper approval process? Are they saying that the employee who approved the sponsorship didn’t have the right to have done so? Or are they saying that whoever approved the sponsorship didn’t realize how heavily the Fed’s right-wing pro-Israel megadonors would come down on Federation for the decision?
The following speaks volumes on that score:
…Sources, however, cite outside pressures from right-wing elements in the Jewish community and from potential donors who objected to an Israeli festival that was about the country’s Arab citizens only.
I guess we’re going to have to do some digging to find out who those “right-wing elements” and “potential donors” were. It’s also laughable to cite the fact that the Festival only dealt with Israeli Arabs as a reason to reject sponsorship. This smacks of racism. If UJA-Federation supports the State of Israel then it must perforce support all citizens of Israel including Israeli Arabs. If it does support Israel and all its citizens then there can be no problem with a film festival honoring Israeli Arabs. If, however, UJA Federation supports only the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, then it should say so.
What follows are other bogus excuses mounted by Federation to obfuscate the reasons it withdrew:
Meretz USA, a civil rights and peace organization that is “fully independent of the Israeli political party Meretz-Yahad,” according to its Web site, was also among the initial list of sponsors.
UJA-Federation officials said the organization’s inclusion in the original promotional materials was the result of a simple mistake.
“Once the proper review process took place, we recognized that there were two issues that would prohibit us from lending our name in support of this event.
“First, we were listed as a sponsor yet no additive funds were provided directly in support of the festival.
Are they claiming that UJA-Federation never sponsors events unless it has donated funds to support the event? If so, I find that a highly unusual guideline and would wonder whether it’s actually true. And I say this as someone who both worked at UJA-Federation (in Westchester) and spent many years as a non-profit fundraiser.
“Secondly, an Israeli political party was also listed as a sponsor in the initial brochure.
“In order to maintain UJA-Federation’s capacity to mobilize the broadest expression of the New York Jewish community we make every effort to avoid association with Israeli or American political parties.
“Our role is to mobilize the Jewish community to stand with the people of Israel and we preserve this capacity by strictly avoiding being associated with any Israeli political parties.”
This again is entirely bogus. Meretz USA, as noted at the Other Israel website is NOT an Israeli political party. It doesn’t even directly or financially support the real Israeli political party Meretz-Yachad. In fact, the former is prohibited from doing so as a 501 c3 registered non-profit organization (login required). As such, it cannot engage in politics. It can only engage in educational programs.
The Fed spokesperson’s weaselly explanation also begs the question: has the Federation ever sponsored events by similar organizations like American Friends of Peace Now, Likud USA, American Friends of Likud, etc.? I’d be willing to bet it has. If it has, then the explanation goes out the window and we’re returned to what is undoubtedly the real explanation: the Fed’s right-wing pro-Israel leadership put the kibosh on Festival sponsorship. Now, what I’d like to do is expose their real reasons.
There are 2 million Jews in New York. Only 70,000 of them give to UJA-Federation (around 3.5%). Of those 70,000, roughly 2% give 90% of the overall funds. That means that around 1,400 New York Jews hold the purse-strings for the entire local Jewish community. Those megadonors are overwhelmingly right-wing and pro-Israel. They don’t support a Palestinian state, they don’t support withdrawal from West Bank settlements, they do support war against Iran, they do support the Iraq war, they are heavily Republican and Likud.
In much of this they diverge from the majority of the Jewish population. Most New York Jews would have no problem with UJA-Federation endorsing the Other Israel Festival. In fact, the vast majority of the thousands who attend the Festival will be Jewish. The problem with our current Jewish communal structure and leadership is that they don’t represent the rest of us. They represent their own narrow political views and economic self-interest. And that’s a shande.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.