Richard Allen has fought the partnership with rabidly anti-Israel groups at the Jewish Community Center in Upper West Side Manhattan. He founded JCC Watch.org, a volunteer group made up of current and past members of the JCC in Manhattan and other concerned individuals and organizations with the motto to hold Jewish Groups accountable, and by doing this, created a stir in New York and nationally by targeting pro-Palestinian support by progressive local and national Jewish leaders.
Picture above is from the news conference on March 13, 2011 and left to right: Joseph Rapaport, Helen Freedman, Richard Allen, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, and Irwin Hochberg.
The group began when it was discovered that the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, chiefly via its Other Israel Film Festival (OIFF) website, actively partnered with or links to groups that, in addition to their stated missions, support, fund, or closely work with organizations that advocate the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
A Jewish Community Center (JCC) is a general recreational, social and fraternal organization serving the Jewish community in a number of American cities. JCCs promote Jewish culture and heritage through holiday celebrations, Israel-related programming, and Jewish education; however they are open to everyone in the community.
There are almost two dozen Jewish community centers in the New York metro area, providing a wide range of social, cultural, and educational services, ranging from lectures, concerts, theater performances, and dance recitals to health and fitness classes, job training workshops, and citizenship classes.
The JCC in Manhattan is a recent addition to the family of JCC's in North America. This eleven story building situated in Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood opened its doors in the winter of 2002. The JCC offers a diversity of programs, from parenting to fitness, and each year the organization produces Israel NonStop, a week long festival presenting the most interesting and innovative Israeli musicians, authors, theatrical groups and films.
JCC Watch held a news conference outside the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon, March 13th 2011. The conference was called to spotlight the nefarious partnership that the board of directors of the center has established with groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The JCC in Manhattan is a beneficiary agency of the UJA-Federation.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is an economic campaign that was launched in 2005 by various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which seeks to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately destroy Israel by the spread of misinformation, by incitement, and by promoting every conceivable boycott imaginable including cultural, economic, union, religious, political, athletic and academic. Among the pro-BDS organizations that the JCC is partnering with or linking to are:
* The New Israel Fund, which in 2008 distributed over $20 million to over 300 non-governmental organizations in Israel. Approximately 20% goes to NGOs that engage in political activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including some that reject the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish democratic state, and are active in boycott and similar campaigns.
* B’Tselem, whose website includes links to BDS-promoting organizations like Adalah, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the Arab Association for Human Rights. Most recently, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a B’Tselem photographer was involved in “staging” a scene in a videotape that purportedly documented misconduct by Israeli soldiers.
* Human Rights Watch, whose original founder Robert Bernstein, in a New York Times op-ed, strongly criticized the organization for its current anti-Israel bias.
* J Street, whose conferences have been used to host and promote groups affiliated with the BDS movement. (In addition to listing J Street as one of its “partners” on one of its websites, the JCC has made its facilities available for political activities on behalf of J Street.)
JCC Watch demanded that the board of the JCC in Manhattan must establish public and transparent guidelines that make clear that the JCC will not partner with nor link to other organizations that support or fund the BDS movement. Only by establishing these guidelines will the board's actions reflect the organization's stated position that it does not support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
The board of directors of the JCC in Manhattan cannot live in two worlds: one where they state they support the people of Israel and another where they abandon them by turning a blind eye to their links and partnerships to BDS and its non-governmental organization (NGO) supporters.
Irwin Hochberg, former Chairman of the Board of the UJA-Federation of New York; and former National Campaign Chairman of Israel Bonds spoke of "the golden days" of the United Jewish Appeal, prior to the hijacking of the organization by liberal elements of the Jewish community.
Jeff Wiesenfeld, a former executive assistant to New York City appointed by former New York State Governor George Pataki told the media that during his tenure in this position, he had worked diligently to obtain the state funding necessary for the construction of the JCC and called upon administrators there to fulfill their obligation as a true representative of the Jewish community and the State of Israel, as they originally had set out to do.
Expressing indignance at the apathy and indifference to Jewish suffering that is displayed by the JCC of Manhattan, Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans For A Safe Israel said, "The JCC should have its members out in the street protesting the massacre at Itamar. Instead, they go on with business as usual, ignoring the brutality waged against Israel and blaming Israel for the ills of the Arab world." She added that "by partnering with organizations like J Street, B’Tzelem, the New Israel Fund and Human Rights Watch, the JCC is exhibiting a state of moral confusion. One boycotts totalitarian regimes, like the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, the sponsor of these terrorist groups. One does not boycott the only democracy in the Middle East."
On June 28, 2011, Richard Allen gave a press release about a June 29th event at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, “Love, Hate and the Jewish State 4.0: Airing the Dirty Laundry?” JCCWatch.org condemns the JCC in Manhattan for hosting the anti-Israel “Love, Hate and the Jewish State 4.0” on its facilities, and once again calls on the organization’s board of directors to establish firm and serious guidelines to prevent the JCC in Manhattan from becoming a hotbed of anti-Israel activities.
Allen called “Love Hate and the Jewish State 4.0: Airing the Dirty Laundry” a “bash-Israel event,” as it “trains the younger Jewish generation to hate the Jewish state. There is nothing at all positive being taught at these political bash-Israel sessions. In fact, the program might be better called ‘Love to Hate the Jewish State 4.0.’” He went on to condemn the JCC in Manhattan, a beneficiary of the UJA-Federation of New York, for hosting yet another event put on by groups that fund and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
According to the New Israel Fund website, the event is also sponsored by Makom (the Jewish Agency for Israel). However, according to Rami Wernik, the North American Director of Makom, the organization is not sponsoring the event which, as its title suggests, carries a bash Israel agenda. Allen reacted by saying that “This is another instance of a radical group using the cloak of mainstream Jewish organizations to stage an anti-Israel event.
Allen added: “When are the JCC in Manhattan’s board members going to take responsibility for partnering with and linking to organizations that fund and support groups associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel? The dots are easily connected to the JCC in Manhattan: their partners are putting money into the pockets of the very groups supporting and comforting the families” of those who killed the Fogel family.
On August 23, 2011, The JCCWatch.org distributed a press release that based on IRS annual Form 990's filings, John Ruskay, the CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, received an excessive compensation package of over $675,000.00 per year in both 2008 and 2009.
Richard Allen stated: "It is unconscionable at this time of tremendous need by the beneficiaries, that the head of the UJA-Federation received a compensation package of over $675,000.00 per year. John Ruskay, the Chief Executive officer of the UJA-Federation of New York, is not only taking an exorbitant personal compensation package, he has also been charged by JCCWatch.org with using his position to further his personal political ideology."
Allen went on to say "Ruskay is also using the UJA-Federation funds to support organizations with a clear political agenda. This is not surprising since he has a history of supporting radical groups including the original anti-Israel group 'Breira' during the 1970's. John Ruskay, through the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), recently supported a group actively calling for the Boycott of Israel, be allowed to march in the Israel Day Parade in NYC." This group, named after a far left political party in Israel, Meretz-USA, marched, as well as a group that funds organizations that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel; The New Israel Fund."
Richard Allen further stated, "John Ruskay allocated UJA-Federation Funds of over $1,000,000.00 (One Million Dollars) to the George Soros political front group, "Funders for Jewish Justice". That group spent over $100,000.00 on an ad attacking Glenn Beck. Neither George Soros or his front groups are known as Jewish Charitable organizations. There are urgent needs in the community that could have used that money. These needs are going unmet and the funding that could have made a difference was allocated to groups with a political agenda."
JCCWatch.org calls on the directors of the UJA-Federation to review their funding and priorities. While any one individual is entitled to their political views, Jewish communal monies must be spent on charitable efforts; not political and personal pet projects that undermine the State of Israel.
On November 13, 2011, a demonstration was organized by JCCWatch.org, Americans for a Safe Israel, and the Israel advocacy organization, ZStreet. Over one hundred people protested outside the JCC in Manhattan while the JCC was holding the “Other Israel Film Festival.” Jewish community leaders and others at the rally condemned the JCC in Manhattan for partnering on this event with organizations that support the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement.
Erica Werber, senior director for public relations for the JCC in Manhattan, disputed their claim, stating that “The JCC in Manhattan does not support BDS and we do not partner with organizations that support BDS. We stand with Israel against de-legitimization and support open and respectful dialogue within our community.”
Yet, among those organizations listed by the JCC in Manhattan as partners in the film festival are the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem, and Partners for Progressive Israel.
According to Richard Allen, founder of JCC Watch, “Meretz-USA, which has just changed its name to Partners for Progressive Israel, on its website, calls for a boycott of Israeli products such as Ahava cosmetics, B &B Baked Goods, Sodastream and wine products from nine Israeli vineyards.”
Community activist Dr. Marvin Belsky also spoke out against the JCC in Manhattan. “The Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, by aligning with anti-Israel groups supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, such as the New Israel Fund, Progressives for Israel and B'tzelem, besmirches its reputation by confusing misinformed innocents to the detriment of Israel and demeans their Jewish heritage,” said Belsky.
Allen also claimed “that the JCC gives these groups free access to solicit the JCC members; they provide BDS supporting groups with tables to recruit members and access to speak to members in forums that are set up for that purpose.”
“Jews do not call upon Jews to boycott Jews,” he added. “In these perilous times when Israel is under economic assault by the BDS movement, Jewish organizations must not tolerate any attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, Member of the board of the ZStreet, agrees. He stated that “organizations should be made to follow guidelines that they will not partner with groups that boycott part (outside pre-1967 borders) or all of Israel.”
Referring to Jewish groups that run programs within the framework of the Jewish community, Wiesenfeld stated, “Anyone who partners with groups that support BDS does not belong in the tent.”
Robert Sidi, a rally participant from Manhattan, said “The JCC in Manhattan's leadership is shamefully weak when it comes to Israel. I urge all the Jews on the Upper West Side to stand up to the JCC and demand that they support Israel or step down if they continue to delegitimize and defame the State of Israel.
Helen Freedman (executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel) also condemned the JCC in Manhattan. In addition, she and her organization have an antidote to the BDS movement. “We support a ‘Buy Israel’ program being launched on November 28th, with the emphasis on purchasing goods made in Israel, and continuing such a program until the entire BDS plan fails miserably.”