All too often in our heated political environment people and groups are called on the carpet, not for what they do, but for what they don’t do. And sometimes the finger pointing goes too far. A recent case is an article in the Forward last week that led with the “news” that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) did not call for President Trump to fire his chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, after the deadly events in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. The reason, according to the Forward? “Leaders worried that it would hurt fundraising efforts,” it reported.
The newspaper based its story on a private email chain it obtained in which JCPA leaders, including its President and CEO David Bernstein, discussed the events in Charlottesville and possible responses. But, instead of presenting a thoughtful and deliberate evaluation of the substance of the emails upon which the story was based, the Forward defaulted to a lower standard that smacked more of “gotcha journalism” — a rush to conclusions designed to make headlines irrespective of the facts. A revised version of the story that included more excerpts from the Bernstein email chain bears this out.
“Without a question, the mainstream Jewish community is ideologically diverse, which means we have to take into account the varied voices and sensibilities whenever we speak and act,” Bernstein told the Forward when the emails were published. In other words, Jewish communal organizations need to weigh their words carefully.
We couldn’t agree more.
As the national umbrella organization of Jewish Community Relations Councils, the JCPA needs to be careful. Most JCRCs are arms of the Jewish federations in the city in which they operate. Where a JCRC is independent, it still must answer to a collection of stakeholders who are not much different from those backing the local federation. Bernstein was, quite properly, counseling caution and consideration of those for whom JCPA speaks. He wasn’t chickening out on Bannon. He was doing his job, and looking out for the best interests of his constituent members. And he counselled JCRCs to think twice before moving farther than where local stakeholders were willing to go.
In any event, there really was no need for JCPA to say anything further about Charlottesville, since it made a strong and necessary statement on Aug. 14, when it condemned the “violent, racist, anti-Semitic and hate-filled” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and urged President Trump to denounce, “in no uncertain terms and without equivocation, the white nationalist marchers.”
Unfortunately, the Forward didn’t appear interested in that part of the story. Instead, it tried to make explosive headlines out of JCPA’s cautious approach.
There was nothing wrong with JCPA’s silence on Bannon. Sometimes not saying anything and waiting for the inevitable to happen is the right decision.