Debbie Hoffmann, former national president of National Council of Jewish Women, and panelists at “Tribe Talk: New Jewish Conversations” discussed a bevy of topics at its March 19 talk, all which centered around decline in Jewish group membership and the role extreme partisan divides play in engagement.

“Tribe Talk” is a Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning program interactive discussion series that is in partnership with the Cleveland Jewish News and the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation. Each month it features a guest panelist, along with regular panelists, Siegal Lifelong Learning executive director Brian Amkraut and director Alanna Cooper at Landmark Centre in Beachwood.

The Women’s March and Farrakhan

First, the panelists addressed controversies surrounding the founders of the Women’s March and their ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who referred to Jews as “satanic” in a speech he recently gave, among past

anti-Semitic statements. Hoffmann said it’s now unclear what role, if any, NCJW will continue to have with the Women’s March, however it was instrumental in planning the first march last year. 

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened because it really does take away from the message (of the march),” she said. 

She addressed intersectionality, the ideology that those fighting for the rights of one marginalized group, such as women, must take on all unequal distributions of societal power. Many feminist groups thus partner with an array of social justice organizations and causes, and aim to set themselves apart from older feminist movements that have been widely criticized for only addressing the rights of white, heterosexual and cis-genderwomen. In some far left movements, such intersectional associations include criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian causes. 

“Intersectionality is a huge term now and being misappropriated I think, depending upon who’s using it,” she said. “I know we have had discussions at NCJW about what can we work on and is that something that is OK for Jewish white women to be working on. So, it gets … very complicated.” 


The panelists’ next topic was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, specifically focusing on the group’s perceived right-wing partisanship and executive director Howard Kohr’s speech at the recent annual conference. The panelists agreed Kohr’s surprising endorsement of a two-state solution in the speech was, in part, an effort to attract more American Jews.

“It’s really an effort to not further alienate so many American Jews,” Cooper said, with Amkraut adding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been “less than vocally in support” of two states in recent years. 

Anti-Semitism, both sides

The panelists also addressed a recent op-ed in the New York Times by editor Jonathan Weisman, who argued that American Jewish groups are not speaking out against American anti-Semitic threats from the far right partly because they have been steadfastly focused in debates over Israel. Amkraut said reluctance to call out each incident veering toward anti-Semitism stems from people not wanting to break with their general political party. 

“If you are on the right and you take a vocal stance against anti-Semitism (on the far right)… what does that say about your commitment to the broader political agenda of the far right?” he said. “And that’s a reason I think people are silent, and the same things my friends, on the far left.” 

Publisher’s Note: Debbie Hoffmann is a member of the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation Board of Directors.

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