Washington — Torn by internal strife, a leading conservative Jewish organization known for its hawkish views is struggling to find its footing after firing a key staffer and losing prominent members of its advisory board.
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs recently terminated the second-highest-ranking staff member, who has been with the organization for more than three decades. The move, a culmination of months of internal struggle, prompted several conservative icons to quit the group’s advisory board in protest. Among those turning their back on JINSA were former CIA director James Woolsey, former top Pentagon official Richard Perle and neoconservative figure Michael Ledeen.
The recent crisis is a result of a messy transformation of power in the group’s top ranks and a struggle to maintain relevance and funding at a time of shrinking budgets and growing competition from other Jewish causes.
JINSA, was founded in 1976, three years after Israel’s Yom Kippur War; one of its main goals was to ensure strong military cooperation between the United States and Israel by educating the American defense establishment on Israel’s strategic importance. In practice, JINSA became home to hawkish-leaning thinkers, most of them aligned with Republican politics, many from the party’s neoconservative branch. JINSA’s main asset in Washington was its advisory board, made up of A-list conservatives such as former vice president Dick Cheney and former United Nations ambassador John Bolton. The group is strictly nonpartisan, however, and several defense-minded Democratic lawmakers also served on its advisory board.
JINSA prepares position papers relating to global defense issues, mainly those relating to Israel and the Middle East, and sponsors programs in Israel for top military brass and for law enforcement officers. The group’s publications give a sense of its politics. They include harsh criticism of President Obama’s policy toward Israel and the need for a credible military option against Iran.
News of JINSA’s troubled internal relations surfaced January 10 with the announcement that Shoshana Bryen, until recently senior director for security policy, had joined the Jewish Policy Center, an up-and-coming conservative Jewish think tank associated with the Republican Jewish Coalition.
The statement marked the end of a months-long battle between Bryen and her bosses. Bryen had been at JINSA for 32 years and, according to a prominent lay leader, was considered its “public face.”
She served as JINSA’s executive director from 1981 to 1991 and is credited with transforming the organization from a small think tank into a player in the Washington conservative scene. She later took charge of issues relating to defense policies and was the main author of the group’s reports and position papers.
Bryen’s blunt analysis of the Middle East gave her a reputation as a hawkish straight shooter, short on nuance and willing to take on the conventional wisdom. For instance, she opposed talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization even when negotiations were endorsed by a Republican administration; even now, defying much of the rhetoric of supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, she thinks an Israeli attack on Iran is unlikely.