GOP Activist Calls for Halt To Federation Donations

By E.J. Kessler

Published December 10, 2004, issue of December 10, 2004.
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A Jewish GOP leader is calling on his fellow Republicans to withdraw their financial support from Jewish charitable institutions — especially federations — that express “hostility toward Republicans” or pursue “a differing political agenda.”

Bruce Bialosky, former president of the Southern California region of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Bush-Cheney ’04 Jewish outreach chair for California, issued the call partly in response to what he described as his brusque treatment by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. In his e-mail newsletter, Bialosky writes that the Los Angeles federation responded only slowly and grudgingly to his demand that its community relations chairman, former Democratic congressman Mel Levine, step aside for the duration of the presidential campaign after Levine accepted a senior advisory post with the campaign of John Kerry. Bialosky claimed the situation represented a conflict of interest.

Bialosky says that the federation at first rejected the demand, but relented after he “made clear” that the decision was “asinine” and “unacceptable.” The federation disputes this account vigorously, saying Levine made his own decision to take a leave of absence.

Despite having his way, Bialosky said that the incident prompted him and his friends to re-evaluate “why we should support the Jewish federation” given that “there are myriad ways to help people in the local Jewish community and in Israel” through other charities.

“There is no reason to support an organization that is in crosscurrents with your political interests,” Bialosky wrote in his newsletter, Bialosky Dialogues, which he said reaches 1,500 individuals as well as appearing on his blog. “As long as we continue to do so, leaders of the political opposition will see us as paper tigers. Start making sure that the organizations to which you give your hard-earned dollars do not consider you a pariah.”

Bialosky’s call highlights what for the past four years has been a simmering tension between the Republican leadership, including the Bush administration, and the top leadership of some parts of the Jewish charitable and organizational world. While Jewish organizations, as tax-exempt organizations, are not allowed to endorse candidates, they frequently have taken positions regarding social spending, public policy and church-state issues that have put them at odds with Republican priorities. With President Bush’s re-election, many Jewish Republicans feel it is time to bring the Jewish organizations to heel.

In a telephone interview, Bialosky said his call culminated years of slights by the federation, on whose executive committee he once served.

“I stopped giving 10 years ago because of their political slant,” Bialosky said, adding that he had heard similar complaints about federations from Jewish Republicans around the country. “There shouldn’t be a political agenda at Jewish federation, but there is. They’ll deny it up and down, but many Republicans I know feel the same way.” He said he knows some Republicans who would like to change the federations’ culture from the inside, but he thinks that “the only way to solve the issue is to starve the beast.”

The Republican National Committee declined comment through a spokesman; Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks said his organization does not comment on positions taken by individual members, only its official policies.

James Tisch, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a federation leader who publicly has voiced criticism of the Jewish charitable world’s liberal political bias, said that while “we’d be a lot better off if federation would leave politics at the door… I can’t condone someone who says you don’t give to federation because of the perceived missteps of one or two people.” He said Republicans should work inside federations to change what they don’t like. “If you abandon it, you lose, and the community loses,” he said.

Levine, who headed Kerry’s Middle East task force in the latter part of the campaign, said he recused himself on his own for the duration of his campaigning and refrained from debating on Kerry’s behalf in Southern California. He said the federation’s community relations council he chaired “is completely bipartisan and has prominent, active Republican members.”

Of Bialosky’s complaint, Levine said: “I believe it has no merit. I think it’s silly, I don’t understand it, and it’s not justified by the facts. This is not in the interest of the Jewish community or of federation.”

The Los Angeles federation’s executive vice president, John Fishel, said, likewise, that Bialosky’s “allegations concerning partisan behavior on the JCRC are without any merit” and that Levine “voluntarily took a leave of absence in order to avoid any perception of partisanship by the JCRC or the federation.”

“It is highly regrettable that anyone claiming to be a leader in the Jewish community would encourage people not to support the humanitarian and social service causes that are funded by the federation,” Fishel added.

The Los Angeles federation, which raised $44 million last year, supports a slew of overseas causes and a roster of local educational and social-service agencies.

The executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, called Bialosky’s complaint “misguided.”

“If a Jewish leader wants to boycott something, there are numerous vicious, antisemitic and anti-Israel organizations out there,” Forman said. “Instead, one of Bush’s biggest Jewish backers decided folks should boycott the Los Angeles federation because they don’t meet his GOP standard of political correctness. Pathetic.”

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