The fallout continues over the Pa. GOP letter that suggested that a vote for Barack Obama could lead to another Holocaust. After JTA’s initial reports on the letter and the public apology issued by one of the Jewish signatories, former state supreme court justice Sandra Schultz Newman, the mainstream media has latched on to the issue, including Slate, the Philadelphia Inquirer and local television and radio.
Less public are the reverberations hitting the local Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, whose campaign chairman, I. Michael Coslov, was one of the three Jewish signatories. For legal reasons, because of its non-profit status as a 501c3 as well as shalom bayit, to keep peace in the community, the federation has always taken pains to avoid endorsing political candidates.
The current federation president, Leonard Barrack, told JTA earlier this week that the federation by-laws make clear that only the CEO and president are prohibited from endorsing political candidates. Coslov is widely assumed to become the next federation president, though federation officials caution that the nominating process has not even begun.
But some in the community, including federation trustees, are not happy.
One of those trustees, Lynn Zeitlin, a prominent Philadelphia attorney, wrote to the federation:
I want to know when the Jewish Federation will denounce and demand a retraction of the email that was signed by the campaign chair of Federation, albeit as a private citizen, which email was condemned by the ADL and many others. I understand that Justice Newman has issued an apology. I would like to know if Federation is demanding that its campaign chair also issue an apology or resign his position.
The federations’s chief marketing officer, Alex Stroker, wrote back that the federation was working on “next steps to remedy any and all negative perceptions this may have caused,” Zeitlin said.
She has also written to Coslov directly, seeking an apology.
Stroker told JTA that the federation has received only a few calls and e-mails, but he acknowledged that “people are not happy” and that there’s a lot of discussion going on about the situation. He did not know what the next steps would be.
Coslov himself has not issued an apology but has distanced himself from the letter, saying he never read the full text and that he’s not “that extreme.”
Both Barrack and Stroker emphasized that Coslov signed the letter as a private citizen. “You can’t tell private citizens what to do,” Stroker said.
The whole flap speaks to the overall tenor of the campaign this year and how vigorously Jews in Pennsylvania are being courted.
One involved member of the local Jewish community, Robert Fox, called for a halt to all the infighting, with a Dayeinu:
Dayeinu. Regardless of whether you are solid for Barack, McCain and able, Biden your time, or pining for Palin. Dayeinu. The rhetoric within the Jewish community is too hot, too shrill and quite frankly unbecoming of us all. As Jews, we ALL value that America was founded on the bedrock principle of religious pluralism, a principle that protects our rights as a religious minority to worship freely.
We ALL value tikun olam, the need and obligation to help others less fortunate. And, we ALL value the unique democracy America offers. It is our obligation as a Jewish community to use these democratic values wisely, to exercise our free speech carefully without rancor, accusation and innuendos.
We as a Jewish community may sing in different ways, but we must begin again ALL singing from the same song book. Find the ties that bind rather than divide us. The harmony will be beautiful.
I bet he and many others can’t wait until next Tuesday.