In Praise of Non-Partisanship

by Larry Yudelson

These are partisan times in the American Jewish community and the Israel-American relationship.

When President Barack Obama delivered his policy address on the Middle East last month with its implied rebuke of the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Netanyahu retaliated by funneling his objections through Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was quick to charge that Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus.”

This week, Netanyahu was gently rebuked by the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, which urged the Israeli government to make “every possible effort to prevent the Middle East conflict from becoming a point of contention between the Republican and Democratic parties,” according to a JTA report.

We think that’s good advice.

And if non-partisanship is important concerning Israel policy, at its core a political matter, it’s certainly the case in the non-political realm of Jewish community building and fundraising.

So we were surprised to learn the details of a recent event conducted by the Jewish Federations of North America for 25 major philanthropists who annually give $1 million or more to their local federation campaign.

The keynote speaker for the event was John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is mulling a run for the Republican presidential nomination. Bolton was seated in a recess appointment in 2005, after his nomination was filibustered by Democrats. Among the issues raised was his possible role in inserting phony intelligence into the president’s State of the Union Address in the run-up to the Iraq war.

During his brief tenure at the United Nations, Bolton used his rhetorical gifts to defend Israel. This week, he blasted Obama’s plans in Afghanistan.

But the job of the JFNA is not to score debating points against the Arabs or the Democrats. Its responsibility is to help local federations increase the funds available to support the needs of our local and international Jewish communities. [emphasis added]

As the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey understands, and has shown with its recent selection of new professional and lay leaders, the key challenge is to bring in a new generation of donors.

That goal is not advanced by making the federation system a host to partisan figures. We need federations to bring the Jewish people together, not to divide them. In bringing in John Bolton, JFNA made a divisive misstep.

Larry Yudelson is Associate Editor, New Jersey Jewish Standard.

This editorial first appeared in New Jersey Jewish Standard; reprinted with permission.