Through a well-informed source, I have become aware that the Seattle Jewish federation will be hosting a community event on October 21st entitled, Facing the Iranian Threat. The conference will be held at Temple De Hirsch Sinai and led by its rabbi, Daniel Weiner. The federation hopes that radio host Dave Ross will moderate the program. Though I wonder if he reads this he’ll have some second thoughts.
The event’s major premise will be that Iran is an existential threat to Israel. It will present that country in an extremely harsh light and make the argument that it is a threat not just to Israel, but the world. The speakers will be Israeli consul general (San Francisco) Akiva Tor, Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post military correspondent and Jeffrey Colman, Aipac deputy director. The two main groups providing funding (through paying for the speakers travel and other expenses) are Aipac and StandWithUs. It is unclear to me whether the conference organizers intended to make public the key role these groups were playing in organizing and funding the program.
All the speakers take a hardline approach to Iran, arguing that in the end diplomatic engagement cannot work. I personally believe that the ultimate goal of the speakers and the groups they represent is an Israeli military attack against Iran. But even if I am wrong, the conference is unfair and unbalanced. The federation, as an umbrella organization representing the Jews of Seattle, should represent all legitimate views held by our community’s Jews on this issue. There will be no speaker supporting the Obama administration’s policy of diplomatic engagement. No speaker will warn of the potential dangers of a military attack on Iran. No speaker will argue that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel (a view, by the way, recently supported by Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak).
The Israel programming committee of the federation never met as a group to plan this event. Who did plan it? A small group of local volunteers and federation staff. That doesn’t seem to be a transparent way to plan such a potentially controversial major community wide event. I have asked two federation executive committee members whether they were apprised of the content of the conference and approved the federation’s sponsorship.
A little background about recent federation history is in order. A few months ago Canon Naim Ateek, one of the leading Palestinian Christian anti-Occupation activists spoke to the Kadima congregation here in Seattle. The federation, at the behest of Aipac’s local director, asked scores of Jewish community leaders to sign a letter of protest to Kadima saying that Ateek was anti-Israel and anti-Semitic (which are false accusations). Only twelve of those solicited agree to sign. A number whose signatures were solicited were upset with the letter and it became a controversial matter: Kadima was the only local Jewish organization ever taken to task in this fashion by the rest of the community for its Israel programming. A few federation board members were unhappy with the letter and the federation executive director quickly backpedaled saying he wasn’t fully aware of it and its contents. Many local Jewish progressives see the original letter as an act of intimidation which thankfully backfired.
The federation Iran-Israel program as planned clearly indicates two of the most hardline local pro-Israel advocacy groups have hijacked the political agenda of our community when it comes to Israel. They have done so with the connivance (either active or passive) of the Israeli consul general. I should add that the Israeli government is in the midst of a massive lobbying campaign within this country that incorporates the Jewish community, news media and members of Congress. The goal of the campaign, in my view, is to soften American opinion so it will be more supportive in the event that Israel attacks Iran.
The federation has two options: it can go forward with the program as planned, in which case I plan to organize a counter-conference with Jewish, Israeli and Iranian-American speakers representing a more pragmatic perspective on Iran and one that supports the Obama administration’s policy of diplomatic engagement. Or the federation can modify this program so that it is balanced and loses its hard ideological edge. The choice is theirs.
I am beginning a fundraising campaign to support the Iran-Israel conference I am planning. We will be bringing speakers to Seattle from around the country and I plan, with other organizational and individual sponsors, to raise the funding to cover such expenses. If you want to strike a blow for a fair and balanced U.S. policy toward Iran and want to tell our communal leaders that they must take such views into account then please use the Paypal button to give as generously as you can. We may also need to pay a speaker fee to one or more of our speakers. Quality doesn’t come cheaply. So please help make this event possible.