27 May

Urge These Jewish Leaders To Speak Out

Sign our open letter to the leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center- Foxman, Harris and Hier:
You must speak out.

Because they have the ear of Israeli leaders, speaking out against Israel’s anti-democratic actions can make a difference.


Dear The McGlynn,

I remember listening to my great aunt Tante Babe’s heartbreaking stories of seeing her young cousin killed during an attack on thousands of Jews, a pogrom, in her city of Bialystok. That infamous pogrom was in 1906, the very year the American Jewish Committee was founded to oppose such attacks.

Feeling alone and unprotected, our family needed the American Jewish Committee. Years later, I remember my parents supporting the Anti-Defamation League because of their support for Jewish refuseniks in the USSR.

And then there’s my grandfather who endured the extermination of most of his family at the hands of Nazis. He is why I greeted with enthusiasm the emergence of a human rights group in the 1970s named after Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter.

These Jewish organizations came into existence at a time when my family – and so many others – needed them desperately, and their contributions and achievements on behalf of Jews and non-Jews made me proud.  

But times have changed, and the missions of these groups have changed. All too often, advocacy for universal human rights has taken a back seat to their belief that they must support the Israeli government unconditionally.

For example, as I write this, it has been 22 days since Israeli citizen and human rights activist Ameer Makhoul was brutally taken from his home in the middle of the night, held without charges, denied a lawyer for 12 days, and most certainly tortured. All under cover of an Israeli media gag order. Regardless of the charges against him, which were only announced today, it is hard to imagine these groups remaining silent in the face of such outrageous repression in a modern democracy. Especially against an Israeli citizen.

Yet they say nothing.

The pattern is not new. 

It is painful for me to say that today these organizations – organizations with such a proud history of civil and human rights – for many of us have come to stand for the exact opposite. Sadly, I now find myself opposed to the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center for dismissing criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, for putting Israeli foreign policy above Armenian genocide recognition, for vilifying Muslims and Arabs, and for building a “Museum of Tolerance” on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.

For many people, these organizations have not been relevant for a long time. You might be one of them. But we also know they continue to be an important voice for many Jewish people.  And we will always need Jews to be safe. That’s why we must ask them to change just as so many Jews in America have changed.

My dad is one of those people who supported the Anti-Defamation League. But when I told him the role they played in silencing criticism when it comes to Israel, he literally tore in half a donation check he had planned to send.

I’m not asking you to go that far. But whether you love them or hate them, we have to call on them to change.

We don’t expect them to fall in line with everything you and I support, but we expect them to at least have a line when it comes to basic human rights and dignity. Please join me in asking the leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to denounce the increasing government-sponsored violence in Israel and Palestine. As Jews and non-Jewish allies who believe in universal human rights, we all have a right to demand that they speak out.

Because they have the ear of Israeli leaders, we believe their denunciation of anti-democratic measures can make a difference where Israelis and Palestinians are suffering the most.

Just last week, Peter Beinart suggested in his significant piece in the New York Review of Books that the greatest danger to the Jewish community today is not from outside, but from inside.

Beinart was referring to the increasing disconnect of Jewish leaders from Jewish people, especially young people, when it comes to Israel and Palestine. Their ongoing unconditional support of Israel’s actions, even when they violate the basic tenets of Judaism and democratic values, has become untenable.

Israel’s violations of human rights and dignity are increasing each day with:

Midnight raids on activists, including Palestinians, Israeli citizens, and internationals

Media gag orders, which keep the Israeli press from being able to write about these arrests

Crushing non-violent protests by the Israeli Army, using rubber bullets, tear gas, and even live ammunition to put down protests

Silencing NGO’s who report on these outrages, using restrictive legislation in the Israeli Knesset.

Banning internationals who are insufficiently supportive of Israel.

And through all of this, Jewish leaders remain silent.

Enough is enough.

It has been decades since the first Palestinian refugees were barred from returning to their homes. It’s time our community leaders reflected our values and did as much to combat oppression when it is practiced by Jews as when it practiced against us.

Please sign our letter urging the leaders of three major human rights organizations–Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center– to speak out against these crimes.

Cecilie Surasky
Jewish Voice for Peace

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