Hours after the announcement that he would be the next head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and weeks before he starts work, David Bernstein was asked his first public affairs question: What do you think about Donald Trump?
On Monday, the GOP presidential candidate had called for banning all Muslims from entering the United States in response to a mass shooting by two Muslims in San Bernardino, Calif. Even before the Dec. 2 attack, Trump had called for surveillance against mosques and establishing a database of Muslims living in the country.
So what does Bernstein, the new public policy voice of the Jewish federation world and its 125 Jewish community relations councils, have to say?
“Trump strikes me as a classic demagogue,” he said by phone on Tuesday. “I just hope American society is mature enough to see his politics for what they are. We have a responsibility to highlight every outrage and act of bigotry he engages in.”
Bernstein, 49, succeeds Rabbi Steve Gutow as JCPA’s president and CEO. A longtime community professional, Bernstein for four years led the David Project, which seeks to boost Israel’s image on college campuses. He also held jobs at AJC and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
He most recently headed CultureSolutions, which helps Jewish organizations transform their work culture.
His to-do list includes strengthening his new agency’s ties with the American political center-left, including Latinos and Asian Americans.
“I also want to go from advocacy on a range of things to a few issues we can have an impact on,” he said.
“I’m a believer of depth over breadth.”
Supporting Israel is one of the missions of JCPA. (Others are advocating for human rights and pluralism.) Bernstein sees this year’s heated battle over the Iran nuclear deal as having “exposed a cleavage in the American Jewish community [between left and right] over Israel, and not just over Iran. It reminds us that we have a lot more work to do to have a productive conversation about Israel.”
Rather than demonize opponents, groups should lighten up, he said. “What the left and right have in common are Israel’s best interests, and we could do much better to highlight that.”
While there is much community concern about activities of the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on the country’s 4,000 college campuses, Bernstein said that “most campuses are quiet when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Our challenge is to do everything we can to manage situations [when they do arise] and not be so drawn in that we forego building friends and alliances with Israel.”
In a statement, Susan W. Turnbull, chair of the board at JCPA, described Bernstein as “an experienced executive with a fresh and creative approach.”
“David is a transformative leader, a visionary, an intellectual and is very effective,” Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said in a statement. “He will do wonders for the organization.”