Jewish orgs pull support from Oregon Food Bank over Gaza war statement

By Joni Auden Land (OPB)
June 1, 2024 1:21 a.m. Updated: June 1, 2024 1:29 a.m.

The statement has created significant backlash for the Food Bank. Jewish organizations who signed the response letter said they took issue with the Food Bank’s “biased” approach.

A longstanding relationship between the Oregon Food Bank and several local Jewish organizations has seemingly fractured after the former released a statement on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In a letter issued Friday, the Jewish organizations — which include five synagogues and multiple nonprofits — said they would withhold any financial support for the Oregon Food Bank until it retracted its statement, which was heavily critical of the Israeli military’s operations in Gaza.


“Antisemitism is on the rise in our nation and our community,” the letter states. “In our view, the false accusations here serve to further fan the flames of Jewish hatred.”

The letter comes as public-facing organizations around the world, including universities, corporations and nonprofits, have faced increasing pressure to take a stance on the war.

An empty interior of the Temple at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore.

An empty interior of the Temple at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore. The congregation is one of five synagogues to withdraw support from the Oregon Food Bank, which issued a statement condemning violence by the Israeli military in Gaza.

Courtesy of Congregation Beth Israel

This last month has seen dozens of demonstrations at Oregon universities, with students demanding disinvestment from companies doing business with the Israeli government.

The Food Bank issued a statement in April condemning violence committed by the Israeli military against Palestinians, particularly against aid workers. The Food Bank also condemned the Oct. 7 killing of more than 1,200 civilians by Hamas, as well as the rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“We remain committed to addressing the root causes of hunger and work within our scope of influence to strategically dismantle systems that perpetuate hunger and poverty,” the Food Bank said in its statement.

The Food Bank’s president, Susannah Morgan, told OPB in a written statement that this kind of stance on an international conflict is a first for the organization. She said the situation in Gaza does tie in with the organization’s wider work of fighting hunger.


“War and violence are root causes of hunger,” Morgan wrote to OPB.

The statement on the war has created significant backlash for the Food Bank. In particular, the Jewish organizations who signed the letter said they took issue with the Food Bank’s “biased” approach to a complicated international issue, and that it didn’t place enough blame on Hamas.

“I was really shocked and appalled,” said Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel, one of the synagogues that signed. “I found the statement to mischaracterize the situation, to demonize Israel and to present a very one-sided approach.”

Cahana said his congregation has been a financial supporter of the Food Bank since its founding in 1982 and would hold annual fundraisers around high holidays. Now, the synagogue will divert those funds to other organizations.

Morgan disagreed with claims that the Food Bank published false accusations, telling OPB that its initial statement “reflects the realities and the information is derived from credible national and international sources.”

Oregon Food Bank also consulted with community groups before publishing the letter, including the Jewish Federation of Oregon, she said.

Bob Horenstein, director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Oregon, said his organization had raised concerns about the Food Bank’s statements before its release. It did not change much after their conversations, he said.

“What we would hope is that an organization like the Food Bank… would not weigh in with a statement,” Horenstein said. “It won’t do anything to help.”

The Food Bank told OPB that it has received new donations and support stemming from its statement on Palestinians in Gaza while acknowledging its statement had led some in the Jewish community to feel excluded.

As to whether the widening gap between the groups can ever be bridged, Cahana was not optimistic.

“It’s very hard to turn back the clock — damage has been done,” he said.