Left-wing Jewish groups seek to oust ZOA from Boston JCRC over opposition to BLM

They claim that rhetoric used by ZOA national president Mort Klein “crosses into xenophobic and racist territory” and is “not compatible with and is in conflict with the mission of JCRC.”

By Sean Savage, JNS

Several left-wing Jewish groups have filed a petition to initiate the removal of the Zionist Organization of America from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston in the latest battle being waged between ZOA and liberal members of American Jewish community.

The petition — filed by 21 JCRC Council members, including 11 representatives from the Workmen’s Circle, J Street, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Jewish Labor Committee, Keshet, New Israel Fund and Women of Reform Judaism — claims that rhetoric used by ZOA national president Mort Klein “crosses into xenophobic and racist territory,” and is “not compatible with and is in conflict with the mission of JCRC.”

Specifically, the petition says that Klein’s recent comments on the Black Lives Matter movement have “extended well beyond acceptable discourse on race.”

Additionally, the petition cites ZOA’s recent “vicious attacks” against HIAS stemming from its objection of former HIAS board chair Dianne Lob as the next chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as past comments against Jewish mega-philanthropist George Soros, former U.S. President Barack Obama, and congresswomen Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Boston JCRC, told JNS that the organization’s bylaws “provide that the programs, activities and practices of our member organizations must be compatible and not conflict with the mission of JCRC.”

“It is the long-established and recently reaffirmed view of the JCRC Council—our policy setting body representing our forty member organizations and the community at-large—that we are committed to all aspects of our mission statement, including to promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic and just.”

“The Council can and does, through its standard committee processes, review actions of our members that may reflect that such a compatibility is lacking,” he said.

In June, the Boston JCRC, along with several dozen other New England Jewish groups, signed a letter reaffirming their stance against racism and support for Black Lives Matter.

“Being a bystander has never been an option. We can only create an America that lives up to its unrealized promise of justice and equality for all by fully engaging in the fight against racism,” the letter said. “Our words and our actions must demonstrate that Black Lives Matter.”

Grappling with ‘cancel culture’

This isn’t the first recent instance of a member of the Boston JCRC being called into question over its actions.

Last year, the JCRC initiated a review process of the Boston Workmen’s Circle, one of the group’s involved in the recent ZOA petition, over BDS support tied to Jewish Voice for Peace. Burton told JNS that since that review in 2019 “no member of JCRC has acted in a way that is in conflict with these guidelines.”

In a defiant statement, ZOA told JNS that this is another example of the far-left’s “cancel culture” aimed at “undermining ZOA’s and Mr. Klein’s strong defense of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Specifically, ZOA said that J Street, the New Israel Fund and Women of Reform Judaism “defend the Israel-hating Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Black Lives Matter Group, Linda Sarsour, George Soros, radical Muslims and Palestinians, but they condemn and wish to censor the oldest pro-Israel group in the U.S., the Zionist Organization of America.”

ZOA continued: “Instead of trying to censor ZOA, these Jewish group should join with Mort Klein, Alan Dershowitz, Caroline Glick and Melanie Phillips in condemning the anti-Semitic Israel-hating platform of the Black Lives Matter/M4BL organization, which promotes anti-Semitic BDS and falsely accuses Israel of perpetrating genocide and apartheid.”

Indeed, while the Black Lives Matter movement has come to the forefront of American discourse in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police, the largely decentralized movement itself has been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism for several years.

In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League noted that a “small minority of leaders within the Black Lives Matter movement have supported anti-Israel — and at times anti-Semitic — positions.”

However, as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) recently noted, “The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Network and the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) are often mistaken for the other or as one and the same. That is why many Jews mistakenly assert the M4BL platform and its hyperlinks to anti-Israel ‘resource’ materials belong to the BLM network.”

While the JCPA does acknowledge that there are invariably anti-Semites within BLM, this “fact should not preclude participation in in the fight for equality in the U.S.”

Work to protect the Jewish community

Several prominent African-Americans celebrities in recent month, including rapper Ice Cube, NFL star DeSean Jackson and TV host Nick Cannon, have come under fire for promoting anti-Semitism on social media, including praising notorious anti-Semite and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Notably, Klein spoke directly over the phone with Ice Cube in a two-hour conversation, during which the rapper told Klein that he rejected anti-Semitism and wanted to be “allies” in the fight against Jew-hatred.

At the same time, the Boston JCRC petition has become the latest venue in the battle between ZOA and left-wing Jewish groups.

In the spring, the ZOA objected to the election of Lob, a former chair of HIAS, as the next chair of the Conference of Presidents. While the election of Lob was delayed for a year as a result, the spat escalated, with HIAS filing a formal complaint against the ZOA for “violating civil discourse” within the Conference.

ZOA hit back, saying that HIAS had itself engaged in “severe violations” and called for the group to be removed from the Conference, claiming that HIAS’s activities “do not serve the Jewish community and conflict with the Conference’s mission.”

Klein said that J Street, NIF and Women’s Reform have engaged in questionable actions themselves.

Klein accused J Street of “unrelenting hostile” activities towards Israel, and noted that U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has labeled recent J Street social media as “anti-Semitic.”

Similarly, Klein said that the NIF “spends millions of dollars funding groups that demonize and defame Israel, promote BDS and bring harassing ‘lawfare’ claims against Israel.”

He accused the groups of “maligning ZOA for condemning Omar’s and Tlaib’s BDS promotion and praise for convicted Jew-killer Rasmea Odeh, while they have praised Jew-hater/Israel-hater Linda Sarsour.”

“They should join ZOA in criticizing HIAS for working with the terrorist group Islamic Relief and for advocating to bring into the United States huge numbers of unvettable refugees from Mideast majority Muslim countries,” he said. “These group’s policies that are hostile to Israel and Jews should make them ineligible to be a member of a pro Jewish group like JCRC.”

ZOA has also said that they are considering a counterclaim since there is “ample evidence” to remove them from the Boston-JCRC.

However, taking on a more conciliatory tone, Klein told JNS that he welcomes a discussion on anti-Semitism and efforts to protect the Jewish community at home and abroad.

“With rapidly increasing anti-Semitism here and abroad, now is the time to join ZOA’s efforts to defend and protect the Jewish people and Israel,” he said. “I personally challenge them to a public discussion of these issues.”

Burton said that the current matter will be referred to the membership committee for consideration, and that ZOA has been notified of this process.