During the course of this latest Palestinian intifada, I received my first two disinvitations – courtesy not of some pro-Islamist university (that would come later) but of another Jew who also opposes anti-Semitism. Eventually I came to understand that in the world of Jewish organizations and professional Jews, each Big Shot competes against all the other Big Shots for the right – and the funding – to be the only Jewish voice authorized to sound the alarm and ride to the rescue.
And such behavior, unfortunately, is not limited to Jewish men.
Years ago, I interviewed a female Jewish professional who held a Ph.D. and who had years of government and lobbyist experience to her credit. For idealistic reasons, she took a lesser-paying position at a large Jewish women’s organization. She told me that the wives of the wealthy men who ran the organization treated her as if she were their servant – indeed, treated her in ways that servants should not be treated.
“Perhaps this is how their husbands treated them,” she said, “or maybe they watched how their husbands treated their employees, but it broke my heart and I had to quit. These wives had no job experience, they could not even keep themselves in pantyhose, but they consistently forced me to do wrong things that would hurt the organization’s objectives. And they always took the credit for the work that I did.”
Does this sound familiar? Such behavior demoralizes and shames Jews who often end up leaving the Jewish organizational world.
I have some religious female friends who have been exploited by Jewish religious women’s organizations. What do I mean? Simply that their brilliance, experience, and noble devotion were harnessed and exploited for the greater glory of the wealthy women who ran the organization and who liked to be congratulated for accomplishing things they had not truly accomplished.
My friends – tireless workers all – were not treated with respect by these women, who reserved such emotions only for major male rabbis and wealthy male donors.
Many volunteers have fled such organizations heartbroken and cynical.
One more unpleasant personal experience: At an organizational event, a major Jewish donor said to me shortly after I’d been introduced to him (and I’m paraphrasing here because his exact words were a lot more graphic): “You’re Phyllis Chesler? How would you like it if I kissed you as if we were a married couple all alone, and not two strangers in public?”
I was shocked and disgusted. I responded, “Sir, why would you say such a thing to me?” His comeback: “Well, I was thinking about the Chaim Ramon case and his excessive sentence.” Said I: “Surely, you could put your concern into words.”
He gave me the blankest of stares and walked away. In his remarks to the audience later on, he freely mocked them and the Jewish religion. It mattered not to his rapt listeners. They still bowed, scraped, and curtsied before him. After all, he had money – lots of money.
Bad behavior is not limited to Jewish millionaires and billionaires. Those who seek their funding trample over one another. The badmouthing is surreal, as is the paranoia. Friends and allies are often seen as enemies and huge blow-ups occur over minor matters. The pettiness is bloodcurdling.
And I am not talking about political differences, only interpersonal behavior.
Living as we do in a time of growing anti-Semitism, and with Israel seemingly adrift and lacking strong leadership, we must, for the sake of Jewish survival, follow Hillel’s timeless maxim: That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.