Well… I am not a member. But if I had a seat at the table of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, I would drop out. Seriously, is the Conference actually representative of American Jews when fewer and fewer are affiliated with classical Jewish groups, defense organization, synagogues and community centers? Isn’t it just a kosher sausage fest (sorry Hadassah) of Presidents who think their opinions actually matter? I personally would rather listen to the Vice Presidents Conference since they probably do more of the actual policy work.

Why am I concerned? Because the majority of the Conference members decided to exclude J Street from membership.

I guess it makes sense. J Street probably represents fewer American Jews than A E Pi and Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Right?

I am conflicted. Should J Street really join a group that already has progressive Zionist member voices and a group that is relevant to very few in American life and politics? Yet if they try to join to make a point and they get rejected by the majority of members, should we speak out?

To me, it appears that many in the Conference are bullies with a ball who don’t want to let the popular new kid into the game. They are buggy whip manufacturers who are turning a blind eye to the popularity of automobiles. Ostracizing the new kid should have ended in elementary school.

The conference is led by Attorney Robert G. Sugarman, a former national Chairperson of the Anti-Defamation League and a past President of Hillel of New York; Malcolm I. Hoenlein, the former founding Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New York; and Carolyn Greene, a fromer Director of Operations for Eshed International, and Director of Programming and Operations for the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry. Members of the Conference include Alpha Epsilon Pi (a Jewish frat also known as A. E. Pi with 9000 alumni); a progressive Zionist group Ameinu; American Friends of Likud; American Gathering/ Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; AIPAC: American Israel Public Affairs Committee; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – JDC; American Sephardi Federation; American Zionist Movement; American-Israel Friendship League; Americans for Peace Now; AMIT; Anti-Defamation League; Association of Reform Zionists of America; Bnai Zion; B’nai B’rith International; Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform); CAMERA: Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America; Development Corporation for Israel / State of Israel Bonds; Emunah of America; Friends of Israel Defense Forces; Hadassah, Women’s Zionist Organization of America; HIAS: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; JCC’s: Jewish Community Centers Association; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; JFNA: Jewish Federations of North America; Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; Jewish Labor Committee (the voice of Jewish labor); JNF: Jewish National Fund; Jewish Women International; MERCAZ USA, Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement; National Council of Jewish Women; National Council of Young Israel; NA’AMAT USA; NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; ORT America; Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbinical Council of America; Religious Zionists of America; Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; Union for Reform Judaism; Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Women of Reform Judaism; Women’s International Zionist Organization; Women’s League for Conservative Judaism; Workmen’s Circle; World ORT; and the Zionist Organization of America. Adjunct members are the Cantors Assembly (they don’t rate as high as the rabbinical groups, I suppose); Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly (don’t they rate up there with the other branches?); and Maccabi USA.

Stuart Appelbaum of the Jewish Labor Committe might have said it best. He wrote, “The Jewish Labor Committee voted in favor of J Street’s application for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Wednesday evening, and we are disappointed that J Street was not approved for membership… The Conference of Presidents has a diverse membership that holds a variety of views representing those in the wider Jewish community in the United States. That should allow for healthy discussion within the Presidents’ Conference of the range of issues that the group addresses. The admission of J Street to that membership would have added to that discussion in significant ways. At the same time, it would have demonstrated that the Conference member agencies were not afraid of a healthy level of diversity of opinion on the key issues that the Conference addresses, and that it truly wanted to represent the sentiment of the majority of American Jews.”

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11 Comments

  • Someone said it best earlier on Twitter, when they quipped that this is emblematic of what we saw in the Pew Report.

    Not that I think J Street speaks for all the Jews who don’t go to shul or consider themselves anything beyond “culturally” Jewish or what have you. But, there is a massive divide in our community, and… well… the attitude that kept J Street out at this little pow-wow? Yeah. Here ya go. May not be the entirety of why we see what we see in the Pew Report, but it’s a significant part of it.

  • Wow. I had no idea that AEPI was a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In any case, JStreet pretty much supports the Obama administration which garnered about 70% of the Jewish vote. Regardless of what Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America says, JStreet in fact supports sanctions against Iran, opposed the Goldstone Report and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Reform Movement (largest Jewish denomination in the US) is a bit peeved at this development. So yeah, while I have never been a huge fan of JStreet (to say the least) I can’t help but feel that this was a watershed moment where our self appointed leaders have shown themselves to be totally unrepresentative of their alleged constituents. What else is new, eh? And again, I am no fan of JStreet and I am a proud Zionist and supporter of Israel who actually lives in Israel…

    • Amen CK. I also live in Israel, and I’m hardly a card-carrying member of JStreet, but they represent a lot of voices in the American Jewish community who DO care about Israel and its future, who WANT to be involved, and who deserve to be a part of the conversation. There’s nothing worse than this resounding “We don’t accept you to our circle” declaration that the Conference of Presidents has just made.

  • Before reading this article, I must admit that I had not heard of the J Street organization before. After reading this article, I decided to visit the J Street website to see what they were about. The moment I saw their advocacy of a “two state peace solution” for the region on their website, that was all I needed to see.

    J Street has a right to their opinion, and a right to express that opinion; that being said, there is NO WAY I would EVER support their inclusion in the Council of Presidents! NO WAY!! NOT A CHANCE!!

    • There are other organizations in the Council of Presidents that endorse a negotiated peace settlement as well as a two-state solution. Also, the Israeli government in numerous peace overtures, has offered a two-state solution. But I guess for some, the Israeli government isn’t Zionist enough maybe?

  • J Street’s behavior is shameful. They are ungracious losers. Also, they are trying to undermine the US Jewish community and whatever unified voice our community has been able to muster.

    First, they try to join the Conference. If they had been voted in, they would be cheering the Conference and touting how their “progressive” views are now mainstream. Since they lost the vote under the very same DEMOCRATIC rules that any applicant to the Conference would have to face, they and their supporters are now attacking the Conference as somehow tarnished and not representative of American Jewry.

    This is interesting because J Street often takes positions regarding Israel that are antithetical to Israel’s DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED government’s views.

    See a pattern?

    A friend of mine recently attended a J Street event for which he received a flyer at another local Jewish event. At the J Street event, he watched as a crowd of a couple of hundred was described as “thousands” and the full (small) room, in which probably half the crowd of opponents or simply curious attendees, was enlisted for a photo-op where the supporters held up signs extolling J Street’s views. Obviously, this image would be used to promote J Street’s “groundswell” of support. However, this would be a lie. Half the people who were part of the photo aren’t J Street supporters at all.

    In the same evening, the speaker, a strong Zionist who probably disagrees with some of J Street’s views, but who didn’t touch that subject in his talk, was to address questions afterward. The J Street operative managing this public event didn’t allow for the usual picking people out of the crowd at random, but instead collected the questions and, surprise, surprise, never allowed questions that seriously challenged the speaker’s perspective or, for that matter, J Street’s. My friend had composed a very polite but challenging question along those lines.

    In short, J Street is good at playing the game, but they play dishonestly.

    Do they deserve to be in the Conference? The do on the day they meet the criteria set forth by voting members.

    They couldn’t even muster a majority vote, much less the two-thirds required. Shouldn’t their advocates at least get them over the 50% line before whining? As at least one Conference proponent has written, the Conference represents committed Jews. By that he meant that the people whose organizations are members tend to be those who are active in American Jewish life, be it synagogue, charity or other facets of the American Jewish community. Perhaps uncommitted Jews aren’t represented in this council, but that isn’t accidental, it is predominantly because they aren’t involved in the community. The suggestion, then, that J Street’s inclusion somehow gives those people a voice is not only unprovable, but more to the point, suggests that people who have no interest in participating in Jewish communal life nonetheless should have a say. J Street, for lack of real supporters, is happy to claim support from those who have no desire to participate, because presumably that would give them the numbers to claim they belong to the Conference. It’s sort of like taking a photo of room half filled with supporters who hold up signs advocating your viewpoint, and then claiming that because the other half of the crowd were standing too (at your request) you have twice as many supporters.

    Oh, and as for my other point, about their attempt to destroy the unity of the Jewish leadership, it is a transparent ploy to strengthen their own position.

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