About as close as Peter Beinart may ever get to Jewish Voice for Peace, were flyers posted throughout the Bay Area advertising his book promotion appearance at the East Bay Jewish Community Center (EBJCC) in Berkeley. The event was to have been co-sponsored by the JCC and KPFA, the local Pacifica radio station. The station, known for its leftist politics, sought out Dr. Penny Rosenwasser as moderator for the event. She was a founding member of the JVP national board and is a staff member of MECA, the group which sponsored the exhibition of Palestinian children’s art that the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art cancelled last year at the behest of angry Jewish community members, who felt the art was too disturbing and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
When more pro-Israel members of the East Bay Jewish Federation discovered that the JCC was hosting an event involving Rosenwasser, they began a campaign to stop it. They had a useful ally. The Koret Foundation is one of the leading Jewish funders in the region giving nearly $2-million in 2011 to the six local Jewish community centers alone. The Foundation, run by an arch-pro-Israelist, Tad Taube, has developed a set of pro-Israel funding guidelines that are unique among American federations. In fact, I’d call Taube and Koret the Koch Brothers of Jewish philanthropy.
When the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival held a screening of the film, Rachel, about the life of Rachel Corrie, despite the fierce opposition of Taube, he issued the following statement. It overshadows the Beinart cancellation:
As staunch champions and allies of Israel, the Koret and Taube Foundations do not support any organization that promotes or provokes anti-Israel sentiment; nor do we provide funding to any organization whose mission runs counter to our position. While we have made no decision regarding future funding of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, we take issue in particular with three egregious errors in its upcoming presentation of the film, “Rachel”:
- It is partnering with Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic groups that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Both are closely associated with the International Solidarity Movement and other groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish State. These groups cross the line for inclusion in the Jewish community.
Those who cavalierly fling Israel’s future into the grasp of those who would destroy it betray a mainstay of the mainstream Jewish community to support Israel and to counteract anti-Israel propaganda events, speakers and organizations.
Given the cancellation of the Oakland museum show hosted by Rosenwasser’s children’s group and the above statement consigning JVP to herem, it’s no surprise that the East Bay JCC would dump Beinart. Let’s look at a few other reasons why these Foundations can enforce such pro-Israel ideological discipline in the Bay Area. First, Koret had $445-million in assets in 2010 (the Taube Philanthropies had an additional $50-million), which would mean it gives away approximately $20-million per year in the local Jewish community.
According to its latest 990 report, Koret gave $70,000 (plus a $32,000 2009 gift) to the East Bay JCC in the past year. Though this was less than it gave to most other JCCs in the region, it was enough to make it recognize that it couldn’t afford the luxury of hosting an event including Penny Rosenwasser. Though $70,000 is small percentage of the EBJCC’s $2.8 annual budget, it cannot afford to offend such a mega-donor. Every JCC these days is thinking about a capital campaign or some initiative that requires funding. The fact that Koret is one of the go-to foundations in the local Jewish community makes every non-profit take a very deep breath before it risks doing anything that might offend.
Added to the Koret funding pressures these local groups face, the Oakland Jewish federation has at least one prominent donor and former board member who lobbied strongly against the Beinart event and has publicly voiced Islamophobic rhetoric. Max Blumenthal writes that Jonathan Wornick‘s Facebook page is replete with homicidal comments about Muslims:
“i’d shoot anyone anywhere if they were yelling allahu akbar!”
Radical Islam, or, maybe all Islam is the problem. It’s a backward, misogynistic, hateful, anti-democratic, ant-semetic [sic], and corrupt. We need to expose this to the western world and get people to realize that NOT ALL CULTURES ARE EQUAL. Islam, if allowed will spread and destroy all Western values. In order to stop films like this we need to stop the spread of Islam. Period.”
He also urged his Facebook Friends to raise hell with the EBJCC and campaign against the event.
Given Wornick’s Muslim-hatred it’s hard to understand why he served in such a prestigious position in the local Jewish community. Aside from his wealth of course, generated from local real estate and restaurant ventures. It makes one understand that the East Bay Jewish community leadership appears to reward wealth over values.
I should make clear that if Tad Taube or Koret exerted any direct pressure on the JCC it was done quietly. But when you have $500-million in assets you don’t need to make a geshrei. Your grantees are like obedient puppies seeking to do your every wish. They don’t even need to hear their master’s voice. They don’t need to be told what to do. They know. Not to mention that Koret has attack dogs like Wornick who are working from the inside to enforce discipline, which allows them to keep their fingerprints off the evidence.
A further pernicious aspect of this pro-Israelist discourse being enforced on the Bay Area Jewish community is that it subsumes not just ideas and organizations, but individuals. First, Jewish Voice for Peace was deemed anti-Semitic and pro-terror. Then Penny Rosenwasser became treif. Who will be next? And has it come to this? That we must return to the 17th century and excommunicate the Baruch Spinozas among us who don’t toe the pro-Israel party line?
When the JCC withdrew from the event, Peter Beinart had two choices: he could cancel the event altogether or substitute another Jewish community sponsor. He chose to cancel. Instead of standing up for the principle of free speech in the community, he took the path of mollifying the powerful pro-Israel interests in the local community by in effect not violating the cherem they’ve erected around JVP and Penny Rosenwasser. If he had instead chosen to move the event to a new space, it would’ve generated a huge amount of media exposure and the sort of controversy that every media project dies for. Imagine how many more people would want to attend the talk and buy the book associated with such controversy. I understand that he wanted a Jewish sponsor (like the EBJCC) who opposed BDS to act as an ideological anchor, but I believe he could’ve done this with very little difficulty. There are liberal synagogues who would’ve been eager to step in. In fact, he still can.
Beinart must figure he’s generating enough controversy from the pro-Israel thought-police at Commentary, Jeffrey Goldberg and the like, that he didn’t want to court more.