While most major American Jewish organizations staunchly support Israel in its war against Hamas, dissent has quietly been growing among their often younger employees, some of whom are now speaking out to “demonstrate broad support within the Jewish community for a ceasefire.”
More than 500 staffers at over 140 Jewish organizations across the country signed on to an open letter to President Joe Biden, shared first with NBC News, calling for a cease-fire, the return of all hostages and a lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
“Many of us have devoted our life’s work to building thriving Jewish communities,” reads the letter, which follows similar anonymous open letters from various groups of U.S. government employees. “We know there is no military solution to this crisis. We know that Israelis and Palestinians are here to stay — neither Jewish safety nor Palestinian liberation can be achieved if they are pitted against one another.”
The letter is distinct from the left-wing Jewish pro-cease-fire protests, which have disrupted Biden events and taken over landmarks like Grand Central Terminal in New York City, in that the signers of this letter write from a more mainstream perspective and come from a wider range of American Jewish groups, including synagogues, local Jewish community centers, social services agencies, philanthropic organizations and Jewish cultural institutions.
The list includes some organizations that support a cease-fire but also plenty of others whose leaders have been outspoken in support of Israel and have even criticized those calling for a cease-fire as being sympathetic to Hamas.
“Within these organizations, there’s a lot of different perspectives and beliefs,” said Kelly Viselman, who works for a progressive Jewish social justice group that supports a cease-fire and said she wanted to speak about it publicly because other signatories could not without risking their jobs.
Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., whose father survived the Holocaust while a grandfather was killed in it, offered a statement in support of the letter, saying Israel’s bombing of Gaza “risks future security” for Israel.
One of the letter’s signers, who works for a Jewish museum in Washington and slipped out of his office to not be overheard speaking with a reporter, said he was worried that members of his organization’s board or a major donor would find out about his support for the letter.
“If I lose my job over this, well, I honestly don’t want to work at an institution that wants to fire me over my views of Israel,” he said. “These people who are helping run and keep alive our Jewish community are taking a stand at great risk by signing this letter. It has made me both incredibly hopeful and fearful.”
The signer said he had spent virtually his entire life in Jewish organizations: Jewish schools from preschool through 12th grade, Jewish youth organizations, Jewish summer camps, synagogue every week and a career spent so far mostly working for Jewish organizations.
The generational divide over Israel picked up in public polls is also true among American Jews, he said, explaining that he is worried that younger Jews more skeptical of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians will be turned off by Jewish organizations that uncritically support Israel.
“If you are isolating an entire generation of American Jews, who is going to be the next generation of leaders and donors and members?” he said. “If so many people my age and younger don’t feel like they need these organizations or have a place in them, I’m terrified they won’t exist for my children when they come of age.”