On Thursday evening, September 12, a group of between 50 and 75 staunchly pro-Israel New Yorkers attended the latest effort to publicly expose what they are calling Donor Fraud in the institutional Jewish community.
Their campaign is called, “Close Your Wallets,” and they are hoping to encourage Jews to withhold their donations to Jewish institutions until specific guidelines regarding the use of that money are adopted.
The loosely organized group whose leader is Richard Allen, head of JCC Watch, has been gathering outside Jewish institutions on a regular basis for several years. They do this in an effort to draw attention to the use by large Jewish institutions of Jewish charitable donations to support anti-Israel activities and anti-Israel individuals.
This week’s vigil was held outside of the United Jewish Appeal – New York Federation building on East 59th Street in Manhattan. The vigils will continue until the NYC UJA adopts effective guidelines along the lines of the pledge adopted several years ago by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee in Florida.
In the past, rallies were held outside of the Manhattan Jewish Community Center and the 92nd Street Y.
According to Allen, the JCC was the first focus because it was showing movies and promoting organizations that work to delegitimize Israel. Later, the 92nd Street Y was the site of several rallies.
The 92nd Street Y was chastised for supporting and promoting two of the anti-Israel world’s most visible celebrities, Roger Waters, a musician formerly with the powerhouse rock band Pink Floyd, and Alice Walker, author of the phenomenally successful novel, “The Color Purple.”
But both institutions receive funding from the single largest recipient of Jewish donor funds, the UJA-NY Federation, all of which is solicited in the guise of being used either for Jewish causes or in furtherance of Jewish values.
Allen was joined outside of the UJA building by Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel, and dozens of others, in a symbolic burning of checks made out to the UJA.
When asked whether he thought the UJA will be amenable to adopting the guidelines, Allen told The Jewish Press he thinks it will take time and only a serious groundswell of support will be successful in getting the UJA to adopt effective guidelines regarding the use of Jewish donor dollars.
“Remember Johnny Friendly, from the Marlon Brando movie, ‘On the Waterfront?” Allen asked. “Well, nothing moves on the Jewish Waterfront without John Ruskay’s approval.”
Allen knows that Ruskay, still the top NYC UJA professional, is opposed to setting guidelines. Allen referenced an op-ed penned by Ruskay shortly after one of JCC Watch’s earliest rallies.
The article was published in the Jewish Week and bemoaned the efforts of some groups who seek to determine when criticism of Israel becomes beyond the pale. Ruskay’s line is much broader than is the one painted by Allen and those who have activated the Close Your Wallets campaign. Ruskay’s vision is that of the largest possible tent, where the greatest number of Jews get to say whatever they want about Israel so long as they count themselves as “supporters.”
Allen doesn’t see much point in welcoming those into a tent who are determined to spread what he and his colleagues see as false, malicious and existentially harmful propaganda about Israel. His view is that Ruskay’s method may prove to be like the proverbial successful operation which, unfortunately, kills the patient.
The next step for the Close the Wallets campaign is the institution of a wave of individual representatives at New York City synagogues who will be like educational community organizers, informing congregants about the harm caused by those in the economic and political warfare program against Israel, known as the BDS (Boycotts of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel) movement.
The second step for the educational community organizers is to explain how Jewish communal dollars are being misused by those whose fiduciary duty it is to spend the Jewish communal dollars in strict accordance with the representations made when the money was solicited.
“This campaign is not going to succeed overnight, but it will over time,” Allen said. “We’re not going away.”Lori Lowenthal Marcus