Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Will Barry Shrage Resign?

First, there was this response to the Harvard students' visit to arch-terrorist Arafat's grave:

TO:               Board of Directors, Past Board Members            
FROM:          Barry Shrage
DATE:           March 20, 2014      
SUBJECT:     A response to recent attacks on CJP and our Harvard Student “Trek”                          to Israel

Yesterday CJP and a group of deeply committed student leaders were the subject of vicious attacks by ideologically motivated bloggers from across the country.  The bloggers took one photo out of context to smear our Federation and a group of students whose only motivation was to tell Israel’s story and connect their fellow students to Israel in all its beauty and complexity.

The students who led the mission are among the brightest and most deeply committed I know.  They have consistently fought for Israel and against the forces of BDS at Harvard.  They created a huge and highly effective symposium at Harvard http://www.timesofisrael.com/harvard-conference-to-present-the-real-story-on-israel/     to counter the infamous “One State” anti-Israel conference that preceded it at the University.  The organizers include four IDF veterans who fought for Israel as soldiers and continue to fight on behalf of Israel on their campus.

The blog that you may have seen attacking the “trek” is a good example of the terrible polarization within the American Jewish community where a few bloggers at the extreme edge of the Jewish community can demonize those who try  to deal honestly with the complexities of life in Israel.

We at CJP are committed to continuing to work to bring both Jews and non-Jews to Israel, to help structure and fund missions that can capture and reveal the amazing achievements of Israel in technology, business, the arts and society and also to examine the complexities and challenges facing Israel today. We believe that understanding those challenges and opportunities from a first-hand perspective is the best way to create knowledgeable and informed supporters of Israel and to strengthen the bonds between the American and Israeli people.

Wow.  That's some counter-attack.  Barry is really pissed off.  Angry.

But, wait, there's a second response:

Thank you all so much for your support and feedback on yesterday’s email.  Our staff and volunteers worked hard on our response and the Harvard College Israel Trek leaders in Israel worked all night on their thoughtful reply to the distortions that threatened their work and their mission. The response was especially important because the kind of mission that they worked so hard to create is crucial for our Israel Advocacy efforts. A mission that is honest about Israel’s complexity and that allows for other voices always attracts the kind of Jewish and non-Jewish opinion leaders we need and invariably brings most of them closer to Israel and to an understanding of the dangers and dilemmas Israelis face every single day.

In yesterday’s message I emphasized the dangers of bloggers and others who use the power and reach of the internet to distort meaning. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the work we do in support of Israel every day would never accuse CJP of using a mission to glorify Yasser Arafat.  Of course that kind of messaging ultimately distorts reality, weakens our community and worse yet weakens the ability of people like our trek organizers to do their work:  spreading Israel’s message and strengthening Israel Advocacy.

The Jewish community and the State of Israel are beset by many enemies, who privately wish for and publicly call for our eradication. They hardly need the assistance of some who are eager to spread distortions and facts taken out of context far and wide on the internet.

But  I failed to also point out that bloggers can serve a useful purpose.  They can closely monitor the work of the Jewish community.  Bloggers who operate with adherence to facts and proper context keep us on the right track and expose weaknesses that, if addressed can ultimately strengthen our community.   The picture that set off the controversy was originally posted by one such writer, Daniel Mael, a student at Brandeis who is also, like our student leaders on the Trek a strong supporter of Israel who has fought for Israel throughout his high school days (at Gann) and now at Brandeis.  His blogging throughout the day was honest and straightforward and actually strongly supportive of the mission while also expressing his shock at the picture at Arafat’s grave.  I’m afraid that my email yesterday unfairly placed him and perhaps many others in the company of some who were far less fair minded and for that I apologize.

Finally I need to say that I and many others were deeply shocked by the photo at Arafat’s grave. While the dialogue with Palestinian leaders was essential to the purposes and success of the mission the photo at the grave was deeply offensive. Yasser Arafat was a vicious terrorist who caused the death of thousands of innocents but in addition, his hatred of Israel caused him to destroy a promising peace process and the hopes and dreams of Israelis and Palestinians alike for peace between our peoples.

Clearly the group was not there to “pay respects” but even the appearance of “honoring Arafat’s memory” never  should have happened and must never be repeated, a view that is clearly shared by our student leaders as well.

Thank you again for your support As always I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Shabbat Shalom and
Best wishes for a  beautiful and meaningful Passover.
Barry Shrage

Barry, I do not know how you would categorize me, but if the above is any indication of strong, committed, responsible and dedicated leadership, your board should request your resignation.

That was backtracking.  You erred in the first place and don't look good in the second.


A promotional poster for the trip:

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