Philadelphia Feud Erupts Over Federation Embrace of Anti-J Street Film

Troubles Just as Group Makes Bid for Mainstream Acceptance

Fairly Balanced? J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is portrayed as an incoherent voice for appeasement in a controversial video embraced by the Philadelphia Jewish federation.
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Fairly Balanced? J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is portrayed as an incoherent voice for appeasement in a controversial video embraced by the Philadelphia Jewish federation.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 26, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.

(page 2 of 3)

In response, J Street issued a statement saying the movie contains “numerous inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies.”

Though not shown in commercial screenings, the documentary is being presented to Jewish gatherings, at Jewish community centers and in private screenings sponsored by local groups across the country. It was also presented by an advocacy group on the sidelines of the recent policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to a room packed with AIPAC delegates.

But the Philadelphia federation will be the first Jewish federation in the country to sponsor a screening of the movie, a fact that has drawn more attention to its event.

In a letter to Philadelphia’s federation interim CEO, Alex Stoker, Rebecca Kirzner, J Street’s regional organizer for the Mid-Atlantic region, protested the event. “There is a difference,” she wrote, “between open and honest debate over policy and strategy… and a film designed to defame and personally attack those with different viewpoints.”

Community members who were taken by surprise when the program was announced voiced similar complaints.

Three years ago, following a similar controversy over an event in which J Street representatives were scheduled to speak, the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council formed a committee tasked with defining guidelines for pro-Israel events. The group’s report was handed to the federation, but leaders ignored the vetting process it recommended when deciding to sponsor the March 27 event. “None of that was followed, zero,” said Dan Segal, who was on the committee. “The idea that J Street bashing is appropriate and that the federation will sponsor it is unacceptable to me.”

Marc Zucker, a former JCRC chair who was also on the committee, wrote to Stroker: “I worry that each time Federation takes one step forward toward engagement and pluralism, it takes two steps back. This backward-looking, divisive and mean-spirited event is unworthy of Federation’s mission.”



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