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Champion of Refusniks, Isi Leibler took on the World Jewish Congress and later J Street and the ADL

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Isi Liebler was a leading voice, early on, in calling for the West to defend the human rights of Russian Jewry. (Photo: theaustralian.com.au)

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Isi Leibler died recently in Jerusalem at the age of 86. I was not acquainted with this name or this person until I read an article by Melanie Phillips published in the New York Times**. His story is about his focus on Jewish leadership that failed their community. This role made his life more difficult, but this difficulty did not prevent him from carrying it out. He has been influential on the international stage for decades.

The messages he broadcasted are increasing relevant in our world today.

Born in Belgium in 1934, Leibler left a leadership position in the Australian Jewish community to make Aliyah to Israel in 1999. He has been credited with facilitating diplomatic relations between Israel and India as well as China. He reportedly played a seminal role in the liberation of Russian Jews immigration to Israel, beginning with raising the issue before the Australian parliament in 1959, and then before the United Nations. This was realized three decades later.

What has particularly attracted my notice was his continued activism regarding the failure of some prominent Jewish institutions to act aggressively in defending and advancing Jewish interests.

He publicly attacked Jewish leaders like Nahum Goldmann, the head of the World Jewish Congress, for not being explicit about Russian antisemitism because Goldmann feared it was undiplomatic and would harm efforts to achieve religious and cultural rights in Russia.

Leibler argued that the lot of Jews is never improved by seeking accommodation with enemies, and, indeed, aided the enemies of the Jewish people. Leibler advanced a militant campaign to bring the horrors which Jews in Russia faced to the world at large.

Leibler’s public activism was dominated by his fight against the demonization of Israel that has, more and more, become a feature of the post-Holocaust world. His attention focused on the passivity, and worse, of diaspora Jewish leadership in the face of these developments. He recognized it as a metamorphosed form of antisemitism. Given that the world has shifted from Jewry primarily inhabiting the diaspora, to the current situation where almost half of all the world’s Jews inhabit Israel, it can be nothing else.

This practice, Leibler saw, was, more and more, a feature of the conversation among the western intelligentsia, increasingly brazen and intrusive. He publicly called it out in his writings, with particular attention to the lip-service paid to its countering by leadership in the British Jewish community. They let the lies being told about Israel to be spread without presenting the truths and realities of Israel’s struggle to survive in the face of enemies foreign and domestic.

With particular force Leibler campaigned against the silence, and even support, of an American majority, of the left-wing, “liberal”, narrative, generating indifference and hostility toward Israel. He argued that they distorted and betrayed the principles of Judaism itself.

The appearance of J Street was a focus of his attention, and deserves the current and continuing attention of an activist Jewry loyal to the struggle against antisemitism  and anti-Israel sentiment and policy in America and elsewhere. J Street’s active lobbying of the U.S. government to undermine Israel’s policies.

At this particular moment, when the Biden government is peopled with so many individuals from the former Obama administration, American Jews must take the initiative to counter J Street actions, taking on the mandate that Liebler so strongly advanced.

J Streets claims to be pro-peace and pro-Israel must be exposed for what they are. J Streets’ fight against the acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism on the grounds of inhibiting “free speech” speaks for itself, an apologia for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks. Their attacks on AIPAC for raising the danger of accusations of dual-loyalty against American Jews, is another. What is this but actually fanning the flames of antisemitism?

Indeed, Leibler actually spoke out against an Obama administration executive, and the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, for actually shifting from its primary mandate of combating antisemitism to partisan social action issues (such as questioning Israel’s democratic structure, criticizing the Republican platform for not advocating a two-state solution, and characterizing the BDS movement as being “animated by a desire for justice”). 

Leibler criticized the ADL endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement which has as one of its goals the embrace of BDS and the dismantling of the State of Israel. Its supporters often use anti-Semitic epithets and targeted Jewish businesses and synagogues during the riots. The ADL has been largely silent or forgiving of antisemitism coming from sources other than from the far-right.

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Some observers of the American scene believe that too many American Jews believe that in their adoption of left-wing, anti-Jewish ideologies involve an embodiment of Jewish values.

This identification with the hostile culture recruits these Jews into an alliance with the enemies of the Jewish people.

If true, this constitutes an erosion of an understanding of and commitment to Judaism.

We are seeing a tragically similar evolution in Israel itself. The Israel parties of the left, whose efforts were central to the creation of the State, as they have lost their popular mandate, (perhaps because of their anti-Jewish, anti-Israel pronouncements,) advocate policies which similarly threaten a vibrant future for Israel. Their position, rejecting of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, is a case in point. It encourages efforts to denigrate Israel.

Jews worry about disunity. It had tragic results in ancient Israel. It has permitted our history to be more tragic than it might otherwise have been. But we are seeing a loss of cultural cohesion that goes beyond communal feuds. Some say community leaders, owing to political ideology, ignorance, cowardice, or all of them together, are betraying Judaism itself.

Responding to these threats demands a focus on a knowledge of and love for Judaism shown by people like Isi Leibler. Surely we can find from among us, the true leadership that our challenges call for.

*Hillel the Elder said: If I am not for myself, who will be, and if I am only for myself, what am I?

**Melanie Phillips, New York Times, April 16. 2021

Max Roytenberg is an author, poet and blogger, with many published articles in Jewish periodicals in Dublin, New York, Winnipeg and Vancouver. After a career as an Economist and Executive in the Food Industry, in Canada and abroad, he writes, and lives with his Bride, in Vancouver. He has children and grandchildren in the US, Canada, China and Israel. His last book, “Hero In My Own Eyes”, is available through major booksellers and on Amazon.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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