The Rosenthal Risk
The Milwaukee Jewish Federation (MJF) announced today that it has hired Hannah Rosenthal, now US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, as its new president. She has previously served as Midwest Regional Director of the US Department of Health and Human Servcies (under President Bill Clinton) and Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. (1)
Like most Jewish Americans, Hannah Rosenthal is a liberal Democrat. But unlike the vast majority of them, she is also affiliated with J Street, a Jewish lobby for a "two-state solution" to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. J Street is strongly opposed to Jewish settlement in the West Bank area, seized from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, upon which Arabs seek to establish their State of Palestine. Since its inception, J Street has been trying to pressure the US government into pressuring Israel to stop the settlements and negotiate the establishment of the Palestinian state. This policy puts J Street at odds with Zionist lobbies, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which advocate unconditional support for Israel. President Barack Obama generally supports the J Street agenda, but he has not used the leverage of US aid to Israel (about $3 billion per year) to secure any concessions.
Research veteranarian Dr Ivan Lang has been circulating a petition on the Internet against hiring Rosenthal, primarily due to her J Street connection, and at least 60 people have already signed it. I declined to sign or otherwise support this effort and here is why:
The MJF is mainly a fund-raising entity for Jewish charities, and I believe that Hannah Rosenthal will be an effective fund-raiser, due to her extensive connections in the political world. MJF needs new sources of support, including people and foundations outside the Jewish community; I think she will succeed in tapping these resources. Success in fund-raising is easy to measure, so if she fails to increase the amount raised (now about $7 million per year), she should leave. I realize that some Jews who are miffed at Rosenthal's J Street connection will protest by refusing to contribute to the MJF, but some of these will still make direct donations to the agencies that MJF supports, such as the Jewish Museum, the Coalition for Jewish Learning and the Israel Center.
However, the President of MJF is also viewed as the spokesperson for Milwaukee's Jewish community by the media and leading politicians. I hope that leaders of the MJF emphasize to their new President that anything she says publicly about Israel and the Middle East may considered as the views of the MJF and the broader Jewish community, so she must not use her office to advance her personal opinions. Only the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC),an agency of MJF which represents synagogues and Jewish organizations, has the right to determine policy questions, not the paid staff. As a member of JCRC, I intend to monitor her public statements closely, and urge JCRC to speak out if she veers off our message,
It is also essential that groups outside the ambit of MJF, such as AIPAC, continue to express independent views, so that the public will understand that no one person or organization can speak for all Milwaukee Jewry.
Gerald S Glazer
(1 )Jewish Federation taps leader, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 19, 2012, page 2B.