America's Jews are at war
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America’s Jews perpetually squabble among themselves. They quarrel about everything, including, some joke, which side of the matzah you butter — the top or bottom.

And, like Talmudic scholars, some wonder if it is better to butter across the ridges or parallel with them?

But never in memory have America’s Jews scratched and clawed at each other like this — thanks, in large part, to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP lawmaker defends Chelsea Clinton after confrontation over New Zealand attacks Klobuchar: Race, gender should not be litmus tests for 2020 Dem nominee Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces White House run MORE’s Old Testament loss to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report MORE. Now the American Jewish world is in full-blown apoplexy.

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Over the last eight years, the division between U.S. Jewish progressives and conservatives has grown deeper and wider. Indeed, Jewish Democrats and Republicans might as well be from different planets; Mars and Venus are even too close for these disaffected landsmen.

 

The election of Donald Trump blew wide open the smoldering rift festering within America’s small (1.8 percent of the population) and influential Jewish community that’s cavernous enough to swallow a Golden Calf and its unholy followers. Some worry that there may be no climbing out of this hellhole. Moses, where art thou?

The president-elect’s selection of Steve Bannon, of Breitbart notoriety, as chief strategist sent most, if not all, Jewish progressive and alt-left groups over the edge, and into rabid fundraising mode. They certainly cashed in on “the outrage” and staked out evergreen protest memes moving forward against the new Trumpian world order.

Now comes the nomination of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The Trump confidant, who dwells in the Sheldon Adelson wing of American conservative Jewry, is arguably responsible for the single largest fundraising surge progressive-leaning Jewish nonprofits have ever seen.

The choirmaster of the losing side’s chorus, Jeremy Ben-Ami, is a slick former Democratic PR operative who leads J Street. This progressive Washington, D.C.-based Democratic political lobby bills itself as America’s “pro-Israel, peace-Peace” home.  It supports all-things Obama, opposes all-things Bibi, pushes for a two-state solution, is against moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and considers Israeli settlements and “the Occupation” gross shondas.

It is J Street that Friedman called “kapos,” an insult when directed at Jews as terrible, or maybe even worse, than calling another Jew “Hitler.” Kapos were Jews who sold out other Jews; they collaborated with the Nazis in the death camps. For a Jew to publicly call out another Jew as a kapo is a big deal. But for the future top U.S.-Israel diplomat to do so is akin to the prophet Jeremiah calling most of America’s Jewish voters, who overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton, idol worshippers.

Not nearly as egregious was Friedman calling the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “morons.” In that instance, the real estate lawyer was referring to the ADL’s new, beleaguered leader, Jonathan Greenblatt, an Obama White House veteran and J Street backer. Since replacing the implacable Abraham Foxman, a growing chorus is singing that Greenblatt’s multiple missteps have damaged the venerated organization.

Naturally, the reaction to Friedman’s nasty characterizations of J Street and the ADL has been fast and furious. Respected Jewish Democratic politicians, journalists, statesmen, progressive groups and the fragmented Jewish alt-left have joined the denunciations of Trump’s radical pick. Friedman, the meme goes, endangers peace and is a vile guy. He’s for rolling back the Iran deal, declaring the two-state solution a dead end, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and other bad things.

To the approximately 70 percent of the country’s 5.3 million American Jewish adults who voted for Clinton, these positions are indeed the antithesis of what they have been told for the last 40 years is the only true path to peace. But to roughly 30 percent of American Jews, and millions of Israelis, David Friedman — not The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman — is that truth-speaking prophet. They’d had enough of the Times, Obama’s Israel and Middle East policies, and the feckless American Jewish supermajority that supported it.  And to many conservative Jews, J Street is that main symbol of the progressive Democrats eight-year assault on the viability of Israel as a Jewish state and the future of the Jewish people, inside America and in Israel.

In 2008, on the cusp of the Obama presidency, Ben-Ami tapped a sweet spot in the American Jewish political multiverse. After eight years of George W. Bush, the last most-unpopular president, AIPAC had alienated many liberal American Jews because the self-proclaimed bipartisan lobby had seemed too cozy with that administration. Ben-Ami smartly saw that J Street could become a landing pad for those disaffected progressives who lived and breathed the social-justice movement.

But the results are decidedly mixed. In many ways, J Street, initially funded by George Soros, the anti-Adelson, punches way above its weight. Ben-Ami, paid about $250,000 annually, is a tireless self-promoter. But while he collects buckets of media hits, J Street only has revenue of about $2.5 million. On the other hand, AIPAC pays its CEO, Howard Kohr, who rarely speaks to the media, more than $760,000, has yearly revenue around $78 million, and a $280 million endowment. Adelson, who was Trump’s largest campaign contributor, paid to build AIPAC’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, which is being expanded.

To the righteous indignation of many Jewish progressive and alt-left groups, AIPAC has remained silent on both Friedman and Bannon, which is their custom. So, too, have other mainstream legacy organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America, Hillel International, American Jewish Committee, and the Conference of Presidents, among others. That makes these establishment groups open for attack by the American Jewish alt-left, including J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, Open Hillel, First Israel Fund, and others.

Clinton’s loss certainly places J Street in the category of “The Biggest Loser.” The biggest winner is Sheldon Adelson, who finally has an ally in the White House and a proposed American envoy to Israel who chants from the same prayer book.

That situation appears to be beyond the pale for many of America’s progressive and alt-left Jewish groups. In this new Trumpian paradigm, J Street is rabidly positioning itself as the go-to anti-Trump Jewish political and social justice organization. Clearly, as J Street now finds itself in the Washington political deep freeze and labeled kapos, Jeremy Ben-Ami sees his lobby’s best opportunity is expanding his organization’s mission and chipping away at mainstream group’s legitimacy. But how much of that 70 percent can he pick off?

The battle for the hearts and minds of America’s Jewish future is now being waged in full public view. With the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War six months away, and with major changes in U.S.-Israel policy on the horizon, the political war among America’s Jewish factions is only beginning.

David Eden has worked in the Jewish nonprofit world as chief administrative officer of Hillel International. He is also a veteran journalist and was the Emmy award-winning managing editor and executive producer at Cleveland's CBS affiliate, WOIO, and editor-in-chief of the Cleveland Free Times. He has worked for the Dallas Times Herald, The Detroit News, The Minneapolis Star, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and Albuquerque Journal. He has also been a professor at the United Arab Emirates University in Abu Dhabi, where he taught journalism. Eden has also consulted in strategic and crisis communications for more than 25 years.


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