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Can Jewish Groups Fight Bigotry Together — While Clashing On Israel?

Jewish organizations are scrapping publicly about whether they can work together on combating anti-Muslim bigotry after a statement made Monday by the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

Jonathan Greenblatt told the Algemeiner on Monday that he was “deeply upset” and “troubled” after discovering that a public statement his organization had signed last week condemning discrimination against Muslims was also signed by Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that supports the boycott of Israel.

The two organizations have frequently clashed. The ADL’s website criticizes JVP for “us[ing] its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism,” and a blog post on the JVP website accuses the ADL of “kill[ing] the Black-Jewish alliance.”

The Algemeiner reported that the ADL added its name before it saw most of the other organizations to join the initiative, which included mainstream groups like the National Council of La Raza, but also the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Greenblatt promised to “exercise greater caution” before lending its name to letters with multiple signers. But in the meantime, the broader debate about whether attitudes toward Israel should serve as a litmus test for potential partners played out on Twitter.

“We’re going to be a lot more careful, but we are not going to surrender the center to the extremists,” he told the Algemeiner. “We cannot allow fringe groups to capitalize on our halo.”

Leaders of other Jewish organizations that signed the letter were split over whether they would have joined had they known JVP and other groups were also parties.

The president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, David Bernstein, wrote on Twitter that he agreed with Greenblatt. “While we stand by letter’s message, regret signing w/grps that deny Israel’s rt to exist,” he tweeted, later adding, “I am a litmus test minimalist, but there are litmus tests worth having.”

But Rabbi Jill Jacobs of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which also signed the letter, argued for a different approach, both on Twitter in response to Bernstein and Greenblatt and in an interview with the Forward.

“I certainly haven’t vetted every single one of the, however many there were, dozens of organizations that signed to see whether I agreed with every single one of their policy positions,” she said. “I’m sure I don’t. But if we had that standard, we’d never sign anything.”

She cited her organization’s partnership with Catholic groups to advocate against solitary confinement despite disagreements over reproductive rights and gay marriage. (The AFSC was also part of that anti-solitary confinement campaign).

JVP spokesperson Naomi Dann responded to the ADL’s criticism in kind.

The ADL can’t be a partner against Islamophobia “if they are conditioning their support for fighting anti-Muslim bigotry on people’s politics around Israel,” she told the Forward.

She added that her organization had no regrets signing the letter despite the fact that the ADL also signed. But she added that in future such circumstances, her organization also might “think twice about partnering” with groups that don’t share their support for Palestinian rights.

Other Jewish organizations that signed the letter, like the JCPA, the Union for Reform Judaism, Bend the Arc and the National Council of Jewish Women, did not return requests for comment.

The ADL shared with the Forward a statement from Greenblatt, saying in part that they “recognize that when signing onto letters of this sort we must ensure that we are not inadvertently legitimizing groups who hold positions antithetical to our core values. In this time when many communities face real challenges, the coalitions we build must allow us both to speak our conscience without unduly politicizing the work.”

But Jacobs, who made clear that she was only explaining her own organization’s policies, argued that such a balance would be very difficult to strike: “If we said that we’re only going to be in coalition with groups that we have agreed with on every issue, then forget it, we’d be sitting in our little bubble working with the same two organizations all the time.”

Contact Aiden Pink at pink@forward.com or on Twitter @aidenpink.

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