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Indeed, given their shared missions of creating a broad and inclusive Jewish community, it is not clear what Federation and Hillel hoped to accomplish by spon soring this event. What they succeeded in doing was to send a clear message to their many caring pro-Israel friends and neighbors who support J Street that both they and their opinions are unwelcome.
That is personally painful to me as a supporter of Federation, Hillel and J Street, and, I am certain, to many others, as well, who are not in the J Street camp but who also don’t wish to see a large and growing segment of the Jewish community alienated from the community as a whole.
And who benefits here? A handful of wealthy Jewish donors out to smear a pro-Israel organization whose success and message of openness apparently frightens them?
Our community has a vibrant diversity of opinion, and we should embrace that. Whether you are a fan of this film or are one of the thousands of Jews who identify with J Street, or are among the millions of Jews who are trying to sort out these complex issues, we all love and care about Israel. If we disagree about the proper course for Israel to take, we should debate those differences openly instead of slinging mud.
That’s why I’ve urged Federation leaders in my hometowns of Tucson and Milwaukee and around the country to speak out against this trend of Federations and Hillels working to stifle open discussion by promoting divisive programming driven with ad hominem attacks on members of our own community. It’s not because I can’t handle those who express ideas with which I disagree, but because it would mean that Federation has transformed from a force that builds community into one that destroys it.
I am sure that Federation staff and leadership in Philadelphia have done wonderful and important work in their community. However, on this occasion they undermined that work, and should be ashamed of themselves.
As a person who has worked so hard and invested so much in building our Jewish communities, it saddens me profoundly to see so many of the very organizations and people whom I believed shared common Jewish values and a commitment to open respectful conversation suddenly behaving in such destructive ways.
Larry Gellman is a financial adviser and Jewish community leader who has lectured in the United States and Israel on the subject of Judaism and business ethics.