Who Speaks for American Jews?

By Isaac Luria 04-16-2010

It's the age-old question. Who can claim to speak for American Jews on Israel?

World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder seems to think he's found the answer. It's him.

In full-page ads in The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, Lauder claims that "Jews around the world are concerned today" in part because of what he calls the "dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel."

Yes, American Jews are concerned today. They are concerned about the lack of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the threat that poses to Israel's survival as a democracy and the home of the Jewish people -- as well as to American interests.

And in their concern, they -- unlike Mr. Lauder -- support the president. According to a poll J Street commissioned just three weeks ago, the president's approval rating remains at 62% among American Jews, 15 points higher than his popularity in the general population. Furthermore, more than 71% of American Jews support pressing both parties to make the hard compromises necessary for peace.

A second poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee reinforces these conclusions, showing approval of the president's handling of U.S.-Israel relations to be at 55 percent among American Jews.

Lauder can proclaim that there is broad American Jewish support for his positions, but the facts are clear: strong majorities actually support the president, despite attacks from some American Jewish organizations and leaders.

Most troubling in today's ads was the conclusion, in which Lauder pleas for the president to end the recent diplomatic tension with Israel and move on to tackling the so-called "real challenges" faced by Israel and the United States.

The ongoing unresolved conflict between Israel and its neighbors and the failure to achieve a two-state solution do represent a "real challenge" for Israel, one that even Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called a greater threat to Israel than an Iranian nuclear bomb.

That the ongoing conflict, and Israeli or Palestinian actions that perpetuate it, do not even rise to the level of a "challenge" speaks volumes about Lauder's personal politics and his credibility to speak for the American Jewish community.

Lauder and the World Jewish Congress have every right to run ads in support of their views. But they have no right to claim to speak on behalf of all American Jews.

Isaac Luria is Director of Communications and New Media at J Street.

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