In this highly charged, polarized, COVID-19-plagued planet, I have tried to minimize my criticism of recent political developments. Coronavirus is enough to deal with. As a physician, I am on the frontlines and have seen the ugly face and features of the virus up close. I have seen the despair, the suffering, the loss, and the utter torment of so many.
It is with this background that I still felt compelled (in a personal capacity, not associated with any organization) to weigh in on the Conference of Presidents’ choice and election of Dianne F. Lob as chair-elect. She originally was to become chairperson this year, but because of the outrage she caused (the coronavirus is being blamed), her term was pushed off for a year. Chairpersons in the past have usually been elected unanimously. Dianne Lob’s election was far from unanimous. Of the 53 member-organizations in the Presidents Conference, only 30 voted in her favor. She needed 27 votes to win. She ran unopposed. Eight organizations, including the Zionist Organization of America and the National Council of Young Israel, voted against her. Five organizations abstained and ten did not cast a ballot.
She was formerly the chair of HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), 2016-2019. HIAS helped rescue and resettle 150,000 Jews after the Holocaust. HIAS only spends its time these days mostly resettling Muslims in the United States. Only four percent of their clients are Jewish. HIAS has been one of President Trump’s strongest critics, especially concerning his immigration policies. They have actually brought a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration. This is despite the fact that HIAS receives over $20 million annually from the Federal Government. It does not seem to be prudent for the Presidents Conference to have chosen a chairperson who is at loggerheads with President Trump.
It is fair to say that HIAS is a leftist organization, both in regard to the United States and Israel.
HIAS has criticized the Trump administration on a number of subjects. When the United States pulled out its funding of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees), HIAS immediately blasted the President. The United States had provided $360 million annually to UNRWA. HIAS proclaimed, “Wielding humanitarian aid as a weapon in order to achieve political concessions is unconscionable...”
In 2014, during “Operation Protective Edge,” UNRWA helped Hamas hide missiles at least on three separate occasions in UNRWA schools in Gaza. HIAS held joint protests with CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), which is a pro-BDS group in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia.
In Clearwater, Florida, HIAS partnered with the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Children’s Services to support Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States. The program works closely with CAIR. HIAS gave The Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Children’s Services $604,002.
HIAS signed a letter in support of anti-Semite and pro-BDS Linda Sarsour. HIAS says they never signed this letter. HIAS claims that the CEO only signed it in his own personal capacity. ZOA claims HIAS is mis-characterizing the letter that HIAS leaders co-signed with leaders of Israel-bashing groups. The letter, according to ZOA, defends Sarsour, condemns Sarsour’s opponents, fails to condemn Sarsour, and contains a strong commitment to work together as allies with Sarsour in mutual interests. The HIAS letter states: “We will not stand by as Sarsour is falsely maligned, harassed, and smeared.”
The letter was signed by Mark Hetfield of HIAS and Rabbi Jennie Rosenn of HIAS. The letter was also signed by the New Israel Fund, which funds pro-BDS groups. HIAS has also repeatedly praised a key Sarsour ally: vicious anti-Semite Ilhan Omar.
HIAS opposed Congressional efforts by Israel’s friends to penalize the UN for passing Resolution 2334 – one of the most damaging and dangerous UN acts against Israel to date.
Dianne Lob has not disavowed HIAS’ actions and statements.
Dianne Lob’s election is a symptom of a much larger illness affecting American Jewry. Assimilation is killing our people. The Conference of Presidents has only hurt itself with the election of Dianne Lob. Unfortunately, the Jewish community suffers the consequences and bears the burden.
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Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.