By David Bernstein, JCPA President and CEO
With growing challenges to Israel’s legitimacy and American pluralism, we need now, more than ever, a strong and focused Jewish community relations movement. In the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, much of the Jewish community viewed the community relations agenda – public advocacy and relationship-building on behalf of the Jewish community – as central to Jewish security and wellbeing.
During this golden age of community relations, according to Steven Windmueller, a scholar and former practitioner, the Jewish community widely embraced a notion of the common good. In this view, Jewish wellbeing depended upon American pluralism. If society treated all minority groups well, it would treat Jews well too. Jewish community relations organizations thus fought for the rights of all people not just out of a commitment to social justice but as a means to protect Jews from intolerance.
Beginning in the 1990s, things began to change. Philanthropic priorities shifted and Jewish civic life fragmented. American Jews felt safer than ever before. Many abandoned the notion of the common good in favor of a narrower view of Jewish self-interest focused on combating assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and threats to Jewish communities abroad.
Windmueller explains that the Jewish community relations field split into “red state” interests concerned primarily with Israel and anti-Semitism, and “blue state” interests still devoted to the common good. Red staters founded “boutique” operations outside the traditional community relations establishment. Many were highly critical of blue state groups for diluting their agendas, while blue state groups were equally critical of red staters for parochializing theirs.
But there are merits and shortcomings in both schools of thought. It’s time that the Jewish community relations movement reconcile these seemingly contradictory approaches and adopt a “Purple State Strategy.”