Seeking To Help Israel, American Jewish Institutions Sold Us Out

This is rich. Netanyahu boycotted Mandela’s funeral knowing he’d be booed out of the stadium but he finds common cause with the Brazilian homophobe Bolsonaro. Congrats to the Jewish American journal the Forward for panning the Jewish establishment increasingly out of touch with universal values

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nNews that matters for American Jews

Batya Ungar-Sargon

Over the past year, many have pointed to the growing divide between American Jews and Israel. But another divide has opened up, and it’s equally distressing: between American Jews and their institutions.

Deep in the grip of a realpolitik that prioritizes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow, protectionist view of what’s good for Israel over the wellbeing of Jews, the organizations in charge of protecting us have lost sight of their missions. Instead of standing for the values we hold dear, they have been meeting with and congratulating brutal bigots, while rushing to denounce small fry.

Take Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s newly elected President. Bolsonaro has a past chock full of homophobic, misogynistic and racist comments. He told a Congresswoman that she was not attractive enough for him to rape her, and then repeated the sentiment a second time on another occasion before pushing her and calling her a slut. He was still bragging about that episode in 2014.

He has also said that he’d rather his son die in a car accident than be gay, and that if he saw two men kissing in the street, he would punch them. And when he was asked by an Afro-Brazilian actress what he would do if his son fell in love with a black woman, he said he’s not worried, since his sons “are very well raised.” On a different occasion he said that Afro-Brazilians were “not even good for breeding any more.

Even if the racism doesn’t outrage you, there are 120,000 Jews living in Brazil. Half of them are women, and no doubt some portion of them are gay. Bolsonaro presents a clear and present threat to the rights and freedoms of those Jews. And the praise he has for authoritarian dictators bodes poorly for the rule of law and Brazilian democracy.

So you would think that an organization like the American Jewish Committee, which bills itself as “the leading global Jewish advocacy organization” and whose stated mission includes “combating rising anti-Semitism and extremism” and “safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all people” would clearly come down against a man who so blatantly disregards the rights and freedoms of Jews and other minorities.

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Buddies in bad times

But you would be wrong. “AJC warmly congratulates Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on his inauguration, as he embarks on leading Latin America’s largest country and the fifth most populous nation in the world,” read a press release from AJC on January 2.

What could possibly explain such an abdication of moral responsibility? AJC did not respond to a request for comment. But the press release gives a bit of a hint.

“As longstanding advocates for robust relations between Brazil and Israel, we are especially gratified that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended President Bolsonaro’s inauguration and met with him, as well as with other regional leaders,” read a quote from the press release. “Moving forward on President Bolsonaro’s pledge to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was one of several issues he and Netanyahu discussed.”

In other words, this homophobic, misogynistic racist has a yen for Israel, which makes him worthy of “warm congratulations.”

This is exactly the opposite of what should be. The fact that Bolsonaro and Netanyahu call each other “brother” is cause for censuring Netanyahu, not celebrating Bolsonaro.

Instead, Jewish institutions like AJC have favored making common cause with villains like Bolsonaro in order to improve Israel’s standing across the world — its third stated goal in its mission statement.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is the opinion editor of the Forward.