Home


 

Here are some stories you are not going to read about in the Jewish press:

* Malcolm Hoenlein (Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, who always wears a yarmulke and claims to be Orthodox) threatened Gary Rosenblatt (Orthodox editor of The Jewish Week of New York) that he would financially destroy the paper if it prints a Larry Cohler story about his secret slushfund. A watered-down version of the story finally ran 18-months later.

* Malcolm Hoenlein carried on a public and highly disruptive relationship during the late '80s and early '90s with his wealthy socialite employee Lisa Belzberg who went on to marry Mathew Bronfman, son of Edgar, and, while married, dated Bill Clinton and "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin. Malcolm is a grandfather and married about 40 years.

If you ask about such stories from the media that serves the Jewish community on bended knee, you will get such respones as:

* "I don't want to talk about that."

* Nervous laughter.

* "If you write about such pure lashon hara, you might as well not show up to synagogue."

* "Can we go off-the-record?"

From my chat with Andrew Silow-Carroll 6/18/04:

"Malcolm Hoenlein (executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish Organizations) recently spoke to the American Jewish Press Association on the topic of dissent in the community. He seemed to be troubled by articles that report dissent in the community. I think he had the Forward in mind. Jewish newspapers go to reliable people knowing they will disagree with the mainstream. And that's not responsible, according to Hoenlein. If the Conference of Presidents comes to a consensual idea, it's not responsible to go to Tikkun for a contrary opinion."

"You don't have any time for that view, right?" I say.

"Who am I to read Tikkun out of the communal debate? If Bush doesn't get 30% of the [Jewish] votes come November, nobody is going to be surprised. We've known all along that he still has vulnerabilities in the Jewish community.

"Republican Jews, to take another example, are a minority in the Jewish community, but we are obligated to publish their views.

"I'm not even sure what Malcolm would expect of us. Just to report Conference of Presidents proceedings as is without hinting about the debates that roil beneath the surface is a false picture of Jewish life."

"People like him who consume an enormous amount of journalism really don't have the first clue about it," I say.

I think to myself, "You can call what Malco;m wants for the Jewish press many things, such as propaganda, but you can't call it journalism."

"Quite the opposite," says Andrew. "Malcolm is a savvy player. He knows full well what we do. He thinks Jewish journalism has a different responsibility than mainstream journalism. And it is true: There is an advocacy part of what we do that demands that we work closely with the greater aims of the Jewish community. Then the debate comes who sets those aims. Malcom feels that as the professional at a group that represents consensus among the presidents of the top 52 Jewish organizations he's the closest you are going to get to it. They set the advocacy agenda. Jewish journalism should not undermine that agenda. It's a point of view about journalism. I think he understands journalism entirely."

I scream in my head: "It's a point of view akin to Goebells. Journalism as the hand maiden of the Authority. Malcolm Bloody Hoenlein should take his place with the former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf as a bloody-minded propagandist out of 1984. What he wants has as much to do with journalism as ham and eggs have to do with Orthodox Judaism.

"In an age of spin, Malcolm Hoenlein offers feeling and authenticity. His message is consistent -- unshakeable, in fact, no matter the evidence -- but he commands daily attention by his on-the-spot, invective-rich variations on the theme. His lunatic counterfactual art is more appealing than the banal awfulness of the Reliable Sources. He is a Method actor in a production that will close in a couple of days. He stands superior to truth."

I keep my temper and protest gently to Andrew, "That's not journalism. That's Pravda."

Andrew: "Umm, maybe. I won't go that far. I just know it's a different view of what we should be."

"You can't hold any truck with that," I say.

If you did, you might as well turn in your gonads to Malcolm Bloody Hoenlein, and when he thinks it is ok for you to have your balls back, maybe he'll give them to you.

Andrew: "I tend not to. Which is not to say that we don't think about a responsibility to Jewish life. We do have an advocacy role to play. I'm not neutral on Israel. I'm proudly pro-Israel. If there's a point of view expressed in the Israel Knesset, it's probably fair to have it expressed in the American Jewish community. There's Tommy Lapid, Ariel Sharon and Yossi Beilin. These are all good Jewish Israelis whose opinions should be expressed in our paper. It doesn't mean we'll print everything. It doesn't mean that I don't weigh the effects of what we do on Jewish well being."

The following 8/8/97 story about Malcolm Hoenlein and the Presidents Conference was delayed 18 months after Malcolm threatened The Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt that he would financially destroy the paper if it ran the story. "The blocks were...a measure of the think skin and malign power of those written about," says a source. This story is edited so that the lede is buried:

Now it turns out that at least half of that budget, and perhaps as much as two-thirds, comes from outsiders - much of it from an independently incorporated charitable fund established by conference leaders in 1982.

Established in an effort to bolster the budget, which until then came almost exclusively from membership dues, this fund for many years attracted little money. But between 1993 and 1995,it has more than tripled, from $121,000 to more than $432,000. The fund's net assets by 1995 were almost $709,000 vs. a net deficit of $146,000 for the conference itself.

Few members even knew of the fund's existence; others were only vaguely aware of it. Ted Mann, a former conference chairman, was listed as a board member of the charitable fund, but said he did not know about it until last January, when he received a letter from the New York State attorney general telling him he had failed to file required financials records for the charity.

Similarly, though Hoenlein asserts that the fund's existence "was known to everyone invovled," Jacob Stein, a former conference chairman who was listed as a director of the fund, said he knew nothing about it.

News of the existence of the fund, which clearly is legal and even commonplace among Jewish organizations, underscores the perception that member groups are not being told about key conference decisions, a charge Hoenlein disputes.

The disclosure, contained in tax records the group released to The Jewish Week last week after many months of inquiry, raised questions for some members about whether the conference may be beholden to a separate, previously unacknowledged constituency of wealthy donors.

For their part, [Abe] Foxman and other critics candidly acknowledge that much of the problem has stemmed from their own failure, until recently, to inquire deeply into conference affairs. Often, these critics said, they have failed to challenge the way Hoenlein and a select group of former chairmen close to him conducted business. Some said they often neglected to attend conference meetings, insist on seeing a budget or delve into the workings of the group.

The Presidents Conference charitable fund was incorporated in 1982 as a fund-raising tool for the perenially cash-strapped umbrella group. As a 501 c-3 charity under the Internal Revenue Service ccode, the fund was eligible to accept tax deductible donations but strictly limited on lobbying.

The Presidents COnference itself, by contrast, is an unincorporated association classified as a tex exempt 501 c-4 organization by the IRS. This allows it to engage in much more lobbying and political activity, but contributions to the conference are not tax deductible.

According to its application for tax exemption, the conference fund "is not in any way controlled by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations" and "will not be accountable, financially or otherwise, to the Conference."

Just who, then, is it accountable to?

In legal terms, the answer seems clear: From 1992 through 1994, only executive director Malcolm Hoenlein and then-conference chairman Lester Pollack were listed on the fund's annual IRS forms as officers or directors. The fund's tax forms for 1995, filled out after inquiries from this newspaper began, adds several other former chairmen as directors. But one, Jacob Stein, says he knows nothing about the fund.

The Jewish Week first requested in December 1995 public tax records from the conference that the IRS requires tax-exempt groups to make available. Hoenlein, on the advice of counsel, former chairman Howard Squadron, declined to make them available until now. The leaders said the delay was a result of a concern as to why The Jewish Week was seeking the information.

The Forward April 17, 1998

Time to Name Names

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Several years ago, at one of the money-wasting general assemblies the Jewish federations fete themselves with, Malcolm Hoenlein, the major American Jew who runs the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, spotted me in a hallway and called me over for a huddle. It turned out that Mr. Hoenlein had a warning for me.

I had just written a story that appeared on the front page of this newspaper disclosing the salaries of 10 of the country's top professional Jews. As an exercise in reporting, the story was no great shakes -- it simply entailed collecting figures from a series of public IRS filings. In the secular press, a story detailing the salaries of muckety-mucks usually lands with a yawn. But in the self-righteous and hypertouchy world of Jewish officialdom, the story elicited weeks of whining about the damage the Forward was doing to the Jewish people, it being common for professional Jews to conflate their own problems with those of their people.

The only muckety-muck who enjoyed the story was one of the few who possesses what in Israel are known as "eggs" and what the current secretary of state once referred to as "cojones." Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League chief, told a group of Jewish students that his salary (which then equaled that of the president of the United States) was proof that servants of the Jewish people could do well while doing good.

Hoenlein did not share Foxman's mindset. Though he didn't even make the list, he felt obligated to warn me that my future in what he referred to as "Jewish journalism" was looking dim. "You really should be careful," he said. "You can alienate a lot of people with stories like that." At the time, he served on the board of the UJA-Federation's New York organ, so I assumed he was speaking officially. I thanked Mr. Hoenlein and went on my way, armed with further proof of something I have long believed: that the men and women who serve as Jewish "leaders" today are by and large incapable of grappling with unvarnished truth. Their spinelessness is reflected in their inability to deal straight-on with nearly every issue that confronts them: It is why American Zionists (an oxymoronic term) insist on rolling out the demonstrably false slogan "We Are One" to describe the Israeli-American Jewish relationship; it is why the leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism preoccupy themselves with the immigration policies of a country they never plan to emigrate to; it is why the so-called defense organizations (Mr. Foxman's included) try to scare money out of Jewish donors with frightful mailings detailing resurgent and deadly anti-Semitism, which is, in fact, in retreat; and it is, above all, why the Jewish leadership stands paralyzed as intermarriage and assimilation work to halve the number of identifying Jews in this country over the next two generations.

I was reminded of this myopia after writing a mild (by secular standards) column detailing the ethical and policy failings of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. I was quickly condemned by its chairman, Steven Schwarz, who stated that the JCPA would not limit its interests to core "headline grabbers" I detailed in a previous column. And what are the issues Mr. Schwarz derides as "headline grabbers"? The only two issues of overwhelming importance facing the American Jewish community, I suggested in that column, are the physical survival of Israel and the spiritual survival of American Jewry in the face of assimilation and intermarriage.

In Mr. Schwarz's world, though, Jewish survival is a "headline grabber."

And what is an issue of critical importance, then? Apparently, it is the formation of an International Criminal Court, which a recent JCPA resolution calls "an important step forward in securing international human rights." Never mind that the International Criminal Court, as currently envisioned, could easily be manipulated by totalitarian regimes -- as the president of Freedom House, Adrian Karatnycky, has pointed out -- manipulation that could result in the spectacle of countries such as Iraq and Libya bringing America and Israel up on war crimes charges.

The reason the JCPA continues to be funded with precious Jewish dollars, even though it is an irrelevant organization that often advocates positions that are directly contrary to Jewish interests, is that it is considered impolitic in the Jewish community to note unpleasant truths about groups that no longer serve any meaningful purpose. This weakness explains why the American Jewish Congress, which is a travel agency that runs a First Amendment law practice on the side, still exists, and why the Israel Bonds organization, which is a drag on Israel's economy, still sells bonds.

Things might be changing, however. In a recent speech before a national Hillel leadership conference, Michael Steinhardt, the philanthropist (and vice chairman of the Forward), took a step toward a candid confrontation of this problem. Mr. Steinhardt believes that the Jews in America are headed toward oblivion unless the status quo is obliterated and massive new efforts are made to keep Jews Jewish. Overturning the status quo will only happen, he said, when the Jewish community stops resisting criticism and looks unsparingly at itself and its organizations. "We need to critique the status quo, to name names of ineffective organizations," Mr. Steinhardt said. "In turn, the community must reprioritize and move money to effective organizations."

Though Mr. Steinhardt aimed, he never fired. He closed his speech without doing what he said should be done, naming names. So I wondered: Was he thinking of Stephen Solender, the head of UJA-Federation in New York, who, even with the Dow at 9,000, is incapable of squeezing even a few extra dollars out of the richest Jewish community in the history of the world? Or was he thinking of the JCPA's irrelevant Lawrence Rubin? Or the Simon Wiesenthal Center's scare-mongering Marvin Hier?

Inquiring minds want to know, so I called Mr. Steinhardt to ask. He gave me a reasonable answer -- "I'm not particularly involved in the institutional world, so I don't know who's doing a good job and who's lazy" -- while still managing to avoid giving me names I suspect he names to himself all the time.

Only when he names them publicly -- and only when he is joined by the other megaphilanthropists in whose hands the Jewish future largely rests -- will the Jewish community begin to shake itself out of its stupor. Knowing Mr. Steinhardt, and several of the other philanthropic leaders, I believe that it is only a matter of time before they realize that the ruthless and public pursuit of the unvarnished truth is the only saving step to take. And I wouldn't want to be Malcolm Hoenlein -- or Larry Rubin or any of the rest -- on the day when they take that first step.

8/9/04

Chat with Walter Ruby.

"Did you have any dealings with Malcolm Hoenlein?"

Walter laughs heartily. "The story got published and almost 20 years later, Malcolm still doesn't speak to me.

"Around 1986, Cardinal John O'Connor, the late Catholic Archbishop of New York, had gone to Israel and he was doing some diplomacy. The Presidents Conference people were unhappy because he seemed to be saying some mildly critical things about Israel. For me it was almost indiscernible but for them it was a shanda. The Presidents Conference ruminated for several days about issuing a statement. Hoenlein wanted to get this statement out before Shabbat. It was already Friday morning. They couldn't hammer it out. So he went ahead and wrote the statement and wrote the names of every one of the 53 president of the major Jewish organizations.

"Cardinal O'Connor returned to New York. Reporters were waiting for his response. He looked at the statement and blew up. He said it was outrageous. How dare they? I do everything for Israel and now they're attacking me...

"Monday morning. I was writing for The Long Island Jewish World. Editor Jerry Lipman called me. He said he was getting all kinds of calls from presidents of Jewish organizations saying they never signed that letter. He asked me to look into it.

"Until now, I had had a decent relationship with Hoenlein. A month earlier, my editor at The Jerusalem Post, Ary Rath, had been in New York and Hoenlein had made a point to say to him, 'Walter's a wonderful reporter. You are so lucky to have him.' I guess he figured he bought me with that.

"I call him. I told him I'd heard from about 20 of the 53 presidents who said they had never signed this document. The first thing Malcolm said was, Walter, this would be a terrible thing for the Jewish people if you published this. It would cause grievous damage. I was like, Malcolm, come on. Give me a break.

"I thought about it for a day. I asked the editor if we should go ahead with it. He said yes. I called Malcolm back. I said, we're going to press tomorrow. We'd like some response. He said, 'If you publish this, I will fuck you for the rest of your life.'

"And he did. A month later, he and the chairman of the Conference, Morris Abrams, the Mort Zuckerman of his era, went to Israel and had lunch with the editors of The Jerusalem Post and asked that I be fired. David Landau, who was then managing editor, said your ass was hanging by a thread, but they couldn't stomach it. They felt Hoenlein was so right-wing and they were liberal left. On the other hand, they said, why do we need the tsures [trouble]?

"Later on, there were moments when I felt like he was hurting me behind the scenes. Years ago, when I was in Russia, the JTA position in Moscow opened up. I was the only logical person for the job. They offered it to a young businessman who was not a journalist. He said to the editor of JTA, why wouldn't you offer it to Walter? And he [editor Marc Pearl] said, according to the businessman, 'Walter Ruby has no credibility in the Jewish community.' That felt like the hand of Malcolm Hoenlein.

"In 1998, Jeffrey Goldberg, who has gone to great things with The New York Times and The New Yorker, wrote in the Forward how Hoenlein had threatened him.

"I know other reporters who have gone through that with him. I wrote a long letter to the editor narrating my experiences at the hands of Malcolm Hoenlein, a serial abuser of Jewish journalists."