(This post has been updated.)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, has issued a harsh statement following yesterday’s vote at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, at which the pro-two-state solution advocacy group J Street was denied membership. J Street lost its bid by an “unexpectedly wide margin,” reports Nathan Guttman at the Forward.
In his statement, Jacobs exposes what he calls “the facade” that the Conference of Presidents represents the American Jewish community and charges that it is “captive” to a small group of right-wing interests. He even raises the possibility that the URJ may withdraw from the influential umbrella organization. The statement represents a starkly honest and rare public rebuke to the Conference of Presidents, an organization that has long been treated with deference.
Although the voting process is secret, as I noted in my post the other day, the URJ publicly supported J Street’s bid, as did other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League.
Here’s Jacobs’ statement, in part:
Yesterday’s vote by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to reject J Street’s application for membership made clear what many have long known, but not said publicly: That the Conference of Presidents is captive of a large number of small organizations that do not represent the diversity of views in our community. As many of us argued before and at the meeting, yesterday’s debate was actually a referendum not on J Street but on the Conference of Presidents itself. As of yesterday, it is clear that the Conference of Presidents, as currently constituted and governed, no longer serves its vital purpose of providing a collective voice for the entire American Jewish pro-Israel community.
In the days ahead, Reform Movement leaders will be consulting with our partners within the Conference of Presidents to decide what our next steps will be. We may choose to advocate for a significant overhaul of the Conference of Presidents’ processes. We may choose to simply leave the Conference of Presidents. But this much is certain: We will no longer acquiesce to simply maintaining the facade that the Conference of Presidents represents or reflects the views of all of American Jewry.
We want to be clear: The Conference of Presidents followed its own procedures meticulously. It is, in fact, those procedures that all but dictated the result.
The member organizations of the Reform and Conservative movements, which encompass the overwhelming majority of American Jews, all voted to support J Street’s admission. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which represents 14 national and 125 local community relations agencies, voted “yes,” as did the Anti-Defamation League. Still this group was primarily “outvoted” by those that constitute the right wing of the North American Jewish community. To be sure, there is room for those at the table, but they should not be allowed to keep others from participating.
The Reform Movement sees the future here, specifically the changing views of younger American Jews on Israel and Palestine. It may not agree on everything with J Street, but it knows it can’t be excluded from an association that claims to represent the views of all American Jews.
UPDATE: J Street is asking supporters to sign a “thank you” note to Malcolm Hoenlein, the president of the Conference, and the Conference itself (“join us in thanking Malcolm Hoenlein for for clarifying this situation and revealing to all what we’ve long known: a new voice is needed to represent the true majority of American Jews–and non-Jewish supporters of an Israel at peace.”)
Thank you for finally making it clear that the Conference of Presidents is not representative of the voice of the Jewish community.
We recognize the need for an open and honest conversation on Israel in the United States. We appreciate you being honest. Now we’ll work on the openness.