Ari Y. Kelman
Lila Corwin Berman
Dear Leaders of AIPAC, the ADL, the AJC, Jewish Federations of North America, and all of the other Jewish organizations whose leaders sit on the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations,
We admit that both of us, who study American Jews and, also, participate in organized American Jewish communities, have wondered occasionally what ongoing purpose your organizations serve. Today is the time to prove your value. You exist for moments like this. We call upon you to act swiftly and decisively to condemn President Trump and his administration’s tolerance for the fascist, white separatist, white supremacist American right.
To those of you worried about taking sides in partisan politics, we demand you accept that the fight against bigotry, racism, and nazism is not a partisan matter. It is the most basic and enduring task of protecting democracy. And you—leaders of American Jewish organizations—have accepted the mantle of fighting against these pernicious forces that endanger democracy on behalf of American Jews. Your path at the moment could not be any clearer.
Now is the time to move beyond words and to use the power you possess to demand political accountability from our President and his administration, from elected officials at every level of government, and from the people who support your organizations. Enough with platitudes and bromides and paragraphs posted on your website or to your email distribution lists. (Even our President has proven himself capable of issuing such statements and, in the process, demonstrated how hollow they can be.)
This is why you have multimillion dollar budgets. This is why you have built relationships with elected leaders. This is why you solicit American Jews for contributions. This is why you hold conferences, issue reports, and claim to contribute to the public good, in the fulfillment of the basic mission of each of your organizations.
Consider the power you have gathered over the lifespan of your organization, and ask yourself what can you do with that power today to remain true to the mission of serving the public good. We have some specific suggestions for you:
1. Act like concerned citizens: Knock on every door of every politician to whom you are connected and explain that your organization’s political support hinges on his or her public denunciation of the bigoted actions and words that have come to characterize this presidency. Rebuke politicians who continue to maintain their connection to the President, as they are trading a smoldering fire of intolerance for their own benefit and political cover. Instruct your members to do the same.
2. Speak truth to power: Remind board members, lay leaders, and donors who might serve on a Presidential advisory board or have ties to the Trump family that they are in league with a president who has refused to denounce race-based violence and, thus, has tacitly supported neo-Nazis, fascists, white separatists and antisemites.
3. Use the power of the purse, even if it hurts: Refuse to accept financial support from philanthropists who continue to conduct business and maintain relationships with the President and his inner circle. Go public with this and let everyone know about your decision and rationale.
4. Work your connections: Some of you have direct and indirect relationships to Gary D. Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, and Jared Kushner. Maintain faith that you can educate some of these people and work hard to explain to them— and the world — why white supremacy is bad for democracy, bad for Jews, and bad for all humanity.
In other words, leverage your power. Access your resources, allies, and partners across the political spectrum to pressure our local, state, and national leaders who are not safeguarding American citizens or acting on their behalf.
We realize we are asking you to make a political choice, to take a side. Whatever power you have accrued derives from the fact that your actions have had and will always have political effects. So do not expect us to interpret your silence as simple indication of your apolitical nature. Know, instead, that your silence is also a political choice, one that aligns you with a President unable to offer a clear rebuke to the KKK, neo-Nazis, antisemites, and racists.
If acting to stanch the public and political lifeblood that the Trump Administration has given white supremacy is not within your mandate, then you will have proven yourselves pointless and irrelevant — exactly as some of your critics are already certain you are. On the other hand, if you wish to remain credible leaders in American life and maintain the good faith and support of American Jews, then the way forward beckons.
You lead major Jewish organizations. Lead.
Ari Y. Kelman and Lila Corwin Berman