I was disappointed to read Dr. Matthew Karlovsky’s attack on J Street (“J Street: The Jewish enemy within,” Jewish News, May 15). Disappointed that the Jewish News would publish an opinion piece which included so many allegedly factual statements that were either lies or distortions without checking with people at J Street or making any effort at all to determine the accuracy of many of the unfair and slanderous accusations that were made. (Editor’s note: Jewish News fact-checked the article, but the writer does not agree we did enough.)
And disappointed that Dr. Karlovsky would join the ranks of Jews who care deeply about Israel and have chosen to express that support by unfairly attacking another group of Jews who care every bit as deeply about Israel’s future, but who simply choose to show that support in a different way.
For the last four decades, I have served in top leadership positions in Israel Bonds, Jewish federations, Jewish day schools, Jewish education organizations and AIPAC nationally, in Milwaukee and, most recently here in Tucson. I have made 20 trips to Israel and have many, many friends and family members who currently or formerly lived there.
I remain deeply involved in most of those groups today but for the last four years I have also joined the national leadership team of J Street.
J Street emerged on the scene six years ago and filled a huge vacuum in the pro-Israel conversation for many Jews who care deeply about Israel – a venue where Jews could honestly and openly express a variety of sincere opinions about how to best support Israel without feeling pressured to either echo the party line or be told to be quiet.
As a passionate sports fan, I believe that every strong team has both a booster club whose job it is to lead the cheers and support every decision and action of the team’s coaches and players. Booster club members cheer for the team and wear the team colors and sing the team songs and only complain about the dirty play of the other team and about the bias of the referees.
But every truly strong team also has a call-in talk show where equally passionate fans (and sometimes they are the same fans who belong to the booster club) can feel free to express their opinions – positive and negative – about the team’s performance and decisions of the coaches and ways in which they think the team can be made better.
And as all of us who endured the Mike Stoops years as football coach at the University of Arizona know all too well, when coaches and players and fans do nothing but complain about the bias of the refs and the dirty play of the other team and don’t spend time working to get better themselves, bad things always happen.
Within the Jewish community, Israel has had AIPAC and other effective pure advocacy groups for decades. But as the situation in Israel and the disputed territories has become more complex and challenging in recent years, many caring American Jews have longed for a call-in talk show venue as well. Not “instead of” but “in addition to.” But none existed until J Street filled that void.
By any reasonable measure, like any other team with a devoted following, Israel is better off and our American Jewish community is stronger and healthier because we now have J Street as a resource – not to replace groups like AIPAC but to complement groups like AIPAC.
Unfortunately, Dr. Karlovsky is the latest in a series of self-described Israel supporters who have responded to J Street’s meteoric rise in resonance and influence by trying to spread lies and slanderous rumors in an effort to destroy this Jewish venue where differing ideas and points of view can be voiced and discussed. His article echoes the themes and distortions of the shameful multimillion-dollar campaign by J Street haters to spread emails, make movies and promote programs all with the clearly stated goal of discrediting and destroying an important and meaningful pro-Israel organization.
His points come right off the usual script, which includes half-truths and lies about J Street’s funders and donors, distortions about the speakers at J Street’s National Conference, and his provocative headline in which he essentially declares J Street’s thousands of leaders and supporters to essentially be stupid, naive and/or traitors to the Jewish cause.
Nowhere does he mention the more than 800 rabbis and cantors who have publicly (often at personal and professional risk) proudly declared themselves to be members of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet.
Nowhere does he mention the thousands of students on more than 60 college campuses who are deeply involved with J Street U and work tirelessly and effectively to oppose BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns around the country.
Nowhere does he mention the former Israeli prime ministers, Supreme Court justices, chiefs of staff of the Israeli Army, speakers of the Knesset, heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet, and dozens of members of Knesset who have praised J Street for the important role it has played to help Israel and the Jewish community and who have actually exposed themselves to withering criticism that accompanies speaking all around the U.S. (including in Phoenix) at J Street programs.
With all due respect, I would suggest that these Israeli leaders who have all spoken out strongly in support of J Street and the role it plays in the American Jewish community are intimately familiar with the challenges and threats to survival and dealing with attacks by outside terrorists and the protection of Iron Dome.
In his strong statement in support of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bold move to declare the creation of a Palestinian state to be dead and buried, Dr. Karlovsky does not mention that in addition to being a J Street priority, a two-state solution is also still listed on AIPAC’s mission statement as one of its prime objectives.
It is fine for people to disagree – even about how to best support Israel and its chances for surviving as a Jewish democracy. And of course, as he suggests, survival is a key consideration for Israelis, Americans and all people in the world. But as Jews, we are also commanded to treat others with dignity and respect – particularly those with whom we disagree.
So while Dr. Karlovsky may be a wonderful person and a great doctor, I have to call him to task for violating the Jewish prohibition of promoting baseless hatred of one Jew for another and I also have to criticize the Jewish News as well for publishing an article that contains serious accusations against decent people without determining if they have any basis in fact.
For people who claim to care about Jewish survival, more attention should be paid to our tradition’s belief that it was sinat chinam – baseless hatred of one Jew for another – that led to the destruction of the Second Temple and led to 2,000 years in exile.
Let’s work hard together to make sure we don’t do that to ourselves again.
Larry Gellman, of Tucson, is on J Street’s Advisory Council.