Now that the presidential election is finally over, it’s time to be blunt: The extreme nastiness of the discourse on Israel, coming mostly from those who opposed President Obama, did a great disservice to the American Jewish community. Well-funded advocacy groups, shadowy organizations and wealthy individuals poisoned the atmosphere and polarized the conversation. They resorted to fear tactics that harmed reputations and paid little heed to facts and fairness.
And it didn’t even work.
So before the next round of campaigning begins, some communal soul-searching is in order. Passionate debate is to be expected when something as significant as Israel’s future is at stake. But it’s time to say that the kind of meanness and mendacity on display this year has no home in the mainstream Jewish community.
A few examples: In March, the Emergency Committee for Israel ran a full-page (and mighty expensive) ad in The New York Times excoriating two small, liberal organizations for some things their staff members wrote. It used quotes from two Jewish leaders without their permission and out of context; both men unequivocably denounced the ad and ECI. The American Jewish Committee, also mentioned in the ad, released a statement saying it, too, was never consulted and wanted readers to know it.
This was only one of many newspaper ads, giant billboards and videos produced by ECI, which as a 501(c)4 tax-exempt organization is not obliged to disclose its donors. But we know that ECI is run by a small board that includes William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular of the Sunday talk shows and Jewish events, where he presents a far more amiable persona than is evident in ECI’s handiwork.
Another example: Jews for Israel 2012, a “concerned group of private Jewish citizens based in Boston” — that’s all we know about them — ran full-page ads in Jewish newspapers in Ohio and Pennsylvania just before the election asking readers: “Are you willing to bet the life of the Jewish people on this President?” Well, that’s a helpful question.
And another: The Republican Jewish Coalition ran an advertisement in this and other outlets in September seeking to taint the hundreds of “Rabbis for Obama” because of the views of one of them — views that were presented in a vulgar, distorted way.
Republicans are not the only ones at fault. In a blog post, the National Jewish Democratic Council attacked Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and mega-GOP donor, alleging that he profited from prostitution at his Macau casino. He asked for an apology; NJDC refused and he sued for defamation. It’s a case that has dropped into post-election oblivion.
But there’s no avoiding the fact that the bulk of the vituperative language came from those seeking to deny Obama a second term. Although the Republicans picked up a few percentage points of the national Jewish vote — how much is debatable — that gain was scarcely worth the damage to communal respect and cohesiveness.
We don’t believe in censorship, and in fact, as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization, the Forward felt compelled to publish the RJC ad. Instead, we believe that speech should counter speech. Hence this editorial.