(JTA) — Tensions among Jewish groups allied with the Biden administration blew into the open this week when a Democratic pro-Israel group briefly called a longtime Jewish leader an enabler of antisemitism — a sign of how potent a debate over a definition of antisemitism has become.
Nancy Kaufman led Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council for 20 years, from 1990 to 2010. She has also led the National Council for Jewish Women. Many progressive Jewish leaders have said she would be a good choice for President Joe Biden’s antisemitism monitor, a position she has said interests her.
Then, on Monday, the Democratic Majority for Israel, or DMFI, which backs Democrats who hew to traditional pro-Israel orthodoxies, tweeted about Kaufman: “Too often she has enabled, rather than battled, antisemitism.”
“This is reprehensible and uncalled for,” it said in a tweet. Kaufman’s “20 years leading our JCRC are evidence of her deep commitment to the welfare of the Jewish people and her yeoman’s work combatting antisemitism.”
“Nancy Kaufman is a forceful advocate for the Jewish people,” DMFI said. “Nonetheless, we would oppose her nomination to be our antisemitism ambassador. We were wrong to suggest she supports antisemitism and we apologize for any such implication.”
The DMFI attack was an expression of an increasingly fraught debate between mainline pro-Israel groups who want Biden to hew to a standard that keeps publicly expressed criticism of Israel to a minimum and progressive groups that want the administration to openly ratchet up pressure on Israel.
The battle has expressed itself in Congress recent months with competing legislative initiatives all launched by Democrats. Some call for increased pressure on Israel; some say that aid to Israel is sacrosanct; some argue for a full speed ahead reentry into the Iran nuclear deal; some counsel wariness.
AIPAC, the pro-Israel powerhouse, backed the more traditional pro-Israel initiatives. DMFI and AIPAC have no formal affiliation, but an array of Democrats who routinely appear at AIPAC conferences are on DMFI’s board and staff.
So far, the influence of the pro-Israel and Israel-critical factions among Democrats on the Biden administration has amounted to a split decision. Biden officials have rejected any calls to pressure Israel on peace issues, but they are pushing ahead with talks to reenter the Iran deal.
DMFI’s tweet ostensibly had to do with Kaufman’s bid to be the Biden administration’s antisemitism monitor. It was attached to a month-old Forward story about progressives backing Kaufman.
But the timing was odd: The administration is no closer to selecting a nominee from an array of candidates for the job, insiders close to the administration have said, and Kaufman is not believed to be on the shortlist.
Before retracting the tweet, a DMFI spokeswoman would not elaborate on the record what it was about Kaufman that “enabled” antisemitism. Kaufman did not reply to a request for comment.