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Federations Face Tough Questions About Ties to Left-Wing Groups

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has come under fire recently for its funding of Theater J, a playhouse that has put on anti-Israel productions. And now it looks like a similar controversy may be heating up in New York.

A group called JCC Watch has accused the Federation-funded Jewish Community Center of New York’s Upper West Side of partnering with organizations that support the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In a news conference held Sunday afternoon in front of the JCC offices, JCC Watch reported that the organization is partnering with a number of pro-BDS organizations. JCC Watch founder Richard Allen called on the JCC board of directors to establish public and transparent guidelines regarding BDS.

“It’s time that the board of directors of the JCC in Manhattan take action. It’s simple: all they have to do is stop supporting groups that partner with, fund, or support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel,” Allen said.

According to JCC Watch, the problematic groups that the Upper West Side JCC has partnered with include the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and J Street. While none of these are flat-out BDS groups, per se, some have been supportive of BDS.

In a recent report on Israel, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. and European countries to withhold Israeli aid that went to the settlements. B’Tselem has reportedly accepted money from an outspoken BDS group called Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace. New Israel Fund has given financial support to boycott organizations, and J Street gave boycott-promoters a prominent platform at its recent conference.

However, it must also be pointed out that there is a difference between dovish or even leftist sentiments about Israel and support for BDS, which is a form of economic warfare aimed at the destruction of the Jewish state. Despite its many faults, J Street is actually an open opponent of BDS. And even Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and New Israel Fund don’t support the BDS movement. What they are guilty of is engaging in activities that often seemed aimed at delegitimizing Israel, which is one of the goals of BDS.

While JCC Watch may be painting with a rather broad brush here, it must be noted that this controversy did not arise in a vacuum. Having antagonized many friends of Israel with its “Other Israel Film Festival,” which promoted movies deeply critical of the country and tend to give aid and comfort to its foes, it is understandable that some in the community are not prepared to give the JCC of the Upper West Side the benefit of the doubt when it comes to other issues. That is especially true about the seemingly cozy relationship that the JCC has developed with these left-wing groups.

If New York and Washington, D.C., are having these issues, there are sure to be similar concerns about Federation-funded organizations across the country. Though the Jewish community is by no means monolithic in its opinions about Israeli politics and policies, Jewish leaders need to draw a clear line between legitimate criticism of Israel and the delegitimization movement.