The saga of the American Jewish Congress’s resignation from a pro-Israel campus coalition took a bizarre turn this week when the organization partly retracted its retraction of the resignation.
After telling the Forward last week that a letter of resignation tendered to the Israel on Campus Coalition had been written by an assistant regional director who lacked the authority to make such a decision, the executive director, Neil Goldstein, reversed himself again this week and acknowledged that the letter had been written by the West Coast regional director, who did indeed have the authority to speak in the name of the organization. However, Goldstein reaffirmed his decision to rescind the resignation — while leaving open the possibility that AJCongress might resign from the coalition in the future for other reasons.
The Israel on Campus Coalition, an alliance of 31 organizations working to promote Israel’s image in academia, has been rocked in recent weeks by a demand from one member that another member be expelled for working against Israel’s interest. The complaint, brought by the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, charges that the left-wing Union of Progressive Zionists hurt Israel’s image by hosting Israeli soldiers who are critical of Israel’s actions in the territories. The soldiers are members of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that is described by right-wing critics as anti-Israel. The progressive group counters that the soldiers are Israeli patriots, and that their campus appearances strengthen Israel’s image by showing its robust democratic openness.
The Israel on Campus Coalition’s eight-member executive committee voted unanimously last week to uphold the progressive group’s membership.
During the debate preceding the vote, an email message was sent to the campus coalition leadership announcing that the American Jewish Congress was resigning from the coalition because of the behavior of the progressive Zionists. The email carried the name of Gary Ratner, West Coast regional director of AJCongress.
Following publication of the AJCongress email, the organization’s executive director wrote a letter that was published in the February 19 issue of the Forward, disavowing the resignation and claiming that the email had been sent without authorization by a former assistant director in the West Coast office.
In a new letter to the Forward, received January 26, director Goldstein and David Twersky, AJCongress senior adviser on international affairs, write that the assistant West Coast director, Allyson Rowen Taylor, did, in fact, have permission from Ratner to send the letter of resignation. The latest communication reiterates, however, that resignation was rescinded by Goldstein and AJCongress remains a member of the campus coalition for the time being. The letter also apologizes to Taylor for erroneously blaming the fiasco on her.
Taylor, who resigned from the AJCongress in December, told the Forward that she had been shocked to open the newspaper and discover that officials from her former organization had said that she did not have approval to write the letter of resignation. “I nearly fell off my chair,” she said. “I felt that the associations and allegations were a defamation of my character.”
Taylor explained that she, in fact, wrote the letter in conjunction with Ratner, who had dictated portions of it to her, and that he told her to put his name on it, since he was the higher ranking of the two authors. In an e-mail letter sent to Goldstein and Twersky, Taylor wrote that the accusation that she “signed a letter for Gary without his knowledge is rubbish, and an outright lie.” Taylor demanded a public apology from the officials, saying that she would seek legal counsel if they failed to do so.
Taylor said she left the AJCongress when the group shifted its focus to international affairs and away from campus advocacy work. She is now associate director of Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy organization active on California campuses. “I want the record clear and my name clear because we do amazing work,” she said.
The full text of the letter from Goldstein and Twersky is published below:
January 26, 2007
To the Editor:
As a result of an internal miscommunication, we erroneously believed and therefore reported to the Forward and later to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that AJCongress’ purported resignation from the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) was written and sent by an assistant regional director acting without clearance from national headquarters or even from her regional director. We have now learned that she did in fact have the approval of the regional director who, being part of senior staff, felt he had the authority to approve the resignation message in an email to the ICC. However, that regional director had not consulted with the national Executive Director. Upon learning what had happened, the national Executive Director promptly rescinded AJCongress’ resignation from the ICC.
The rest of our position remains the same as stated before, namely that we are concerned that, in the context of campus outreach, the presentation of sectarian views critical of the current government of Israel from the left or the right does not make for effective pro-Israel advocacy. Honorable people can disagree about this, and it is in this context, that we are reviewing our continued membership in the coalition.
Finally, we would like to apologize to Allyson Taylor for mistakenly accusing her of having acted rashly and without the authorization of her regional director.
Neil B. Goldstein, Executive Director
David Twersky, Senior Adviser, International Affairs