THE TWO SIDES OF JFREF
1. “I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy.” Henry Schwarzschild, 1982, Winner of JFREJ’s Meyer Award, 1995.
2.“We partner with community organizations that are led by low-income folks, people of color, and immigrant communities, working on campaigns to make changes in the lives of individuals and result in the long-term systemic changes that are about overcoming systems of oppression.,,,People ask, ‘Why don’t you work on national or international issues? Why just New York?’ We follow a tradition called doykayt, which can be translated as here-ness. It’s about working where you are, that where you are is home. That’s the place where you can and should work–where you can make the most impact. Staying local is very key to the work that we do.” Marjorie Dove Kent, JFREJ Executive Director July 2013
As background for a discussion of New York’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) some words about political groups in general. At the risk of oversimplification, we may broadly categorize political thought as either fringe (which I shall call esoteric) or conventional (which I shall call exoteric). The hallmark of the esoteric, of course, is that it is based on presumed special illumination and is thus accessible only to the initiated. Exoteric thought, on the other hand, acknowledges rational argument and is thus, at least in principle, publicly accessible. Esoteric movements include the various Marxist sects, extreme right-wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and religious movements like Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of the branches of the Disciples of Christ.
JFREJ — New York’s own Jews for Racial and Economic Justice — has a problem. On the one hand it has an esoteric (hidden to all but the initiates) core ideology (1. above) which few would accept, viz. fanatic enmity toward Israel. On the other hand the group seeks to influence the larger Jewish community. What to do ? Well, there is an answer, fashioned some ninety years ago by the group’s Stalinist forebears: create exoteric (publicly accessible and publicly acceptable) “front” activities (see 2. above) that will serve to veil its esoteric aims and, at the same time, serve to drag in the “innocents.” The (exoteric) lure consists of a seemingly benign program for “democracy,” for “justice,” against “racism,” against “Islamophobia.”
[Please see my previous posting in which I have given more detail about the JFREJ’s dynamics and have shown numerous instances in which the group lets slip its veil of normalcy and reveals its esoteric core. And click here to read an excerpt from Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism concerning the function of Communist and Nazi front organizations. This excerpt is, in fact, an indispensable text for the understanding of JFREJ. As I see it, JFREJ’s basic similarity to the totalitarian movements of the last century lies in having an esoteric ideology coupled with techniques of transmitting this doctrine in exoteric forms.]
But there is a dilemma. If there is a an esoteric aim that is completely hidden behind the exoteric day-to-day work, how can that aim ever be realized ? In other words: if your true aim is to abolish Israel but you never say this to your followers, you cannot expect these followers to take the necessary steps to accomplish the aim. In actual fact, the dilemma is unsolvable as long as the inner cadre refrains from pushing the esoteric program. Of course if it were to practice such restraint, it would, in its own eyes, betray its holy mission. This it will not do; this it has not done. So we see, over and over again, that the generally hidden aim becomes revealed, albeit with some discretion. Here we can see the difference between a deep-cover organization like an espionage ring, which can consistently hide its aims to the public, and an esoteric political movement, which must reveal its inner core from time to time in order to accomplish its proselytizing mission.
In addition to the extensive evidence of its anti-Israel work that I have shown previously, it is revealing to look at the list of its leadership and, perhaps even more important, the list of those to whom it has awarded its annual “Meyer” awards. As I have noted in my previous posting, these recipients include Tony Kushner, Debbie Almontaser, Adam Shapiro, and Henry Schwarzschild, among others. Adam Shapiro, honored by JFREJ with a special award in 2003, is among the few anti-Israel activists who does not shy away from actually urging, rather than just winking at, Arab violence against Israel. But the tone-setting annual JFREJ award was the first one, in 1995, to Henry Schwarzschild, who died a year later (see above).
When we look at the current list of JFREJ leadership, we find, for instance, the board member Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky, who is described as “a puppeteer, designer, organizer and agitator based at Brooklyn’s Glitter House. 3rd-generation radical; 2nd-generation queer. Active in JFREJ since 1999, on the Board since 2010. Co-founder of Jews Against the Occupation/NYC, Palestine Activist Forum (now Adalah-NY).” Of those on the “Rabbinic Council,” it is hard to find a single one who lacks an extensive hate-Israel background, but a man identified as Michael Feinberg, even in this lamentable group, stands out for the violence of his expressed hatred for the Jewish state. Feinberg sits on the “Rabbinic Council” not only of JFREJ but also on that of Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the most notorious hate-Israel groups in the United States. (See the ADL description of JVP here.)
Another link of JFREJ to JVP is the married couple Donna Nevel/Alan Levine. Both are members of JVP. Nevel is a founding member of JFREJ, and Levine is the 2013 recipient of JFREJ’s Meyer Award. Nevel, an anti-Israel activist, has written a revealing account of JFREJ’s esoteric-exoteric tension from her own perspective.
Overall, by looking at all the personalities that are publicly associated with JFREJ, we find that almost all are also engaged in the anti-Israel work of related organizations. This, as I have shown, is particularly true of Marjorie Dove Kent, JFREJ’s Executive Director.
JFREJ is currently involved in “partnerships” with at least two mainline Brooklyn synagogues, one Reform, one Conservative. I have written to the rabbi and lay leadership of one of these, pointing to the hate-Israel nature of the group. I have not yet received a reply. Another mainline rabbi of my acquaintance has commented that JFREJ does “very good work” in inter-racial activity and is not, as far as he knows, involved in anything to do with Israel. None are so blind as those who will not see. These are the “useful innocents” that the Stalinist core cadre has always relied on as “transmission belts” to a larger audience.
Well, does it matter ? Indeed it does. I have seen more than one impressionable young person become radicalized by the allure of the exoteric veneer of such groups, only to be consequently initiated into the esoteric hard core. There are families that have been torn. Hint to mainline Jewish congregations: do we really need to “partner” with this kind of outfit ?