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Inside the Presidents’ Conference and the J Street Vote

This vote was about J Street, and the proportion of the vote, I think, speaks to the fact that this was not one extreme or another. This was the expression of the majority of the members of the Conference.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted against the admission of J Street.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted against the admission of J Street.

Hoenlein — and indeed all other Conference officials — repeatedly declined to be interviewed on the record for this article.

Nonetheless the key Conference sources interviewed for this article, did respond with a surprisingly upbeat message. “I don’t think the Conference was subjected to a lot of criticism,” one source asserted. “Yes, there were some references, but it was not really personalized. Most people know that the chairman [Robert Sugarman] and the executive vice chairman [Malcolm Hoenlein] did not participate in the process at all. They didn’t vote, didn’t attend the meetings, they did not express themselves and have not — before or since — expressed a public view on the issue because the Conference wanted it clear that the vote was a decision of the members, and not directed from outside or from the inside.”

A key source added, “The vote speaks for itself. People have misinterpreted it in ways that have served their purposes. But they just need to look at the objective facts. J Street was given every opportunity in a fair and open process. Even by J Street’s own recognition, the process was fair and done the same way as every other application.”

The sources all asserted that the vote for J Street process mirrored any democratic election in the United States. One individual declared, “Of course, the vote is always conducted by a closed ballot. But not the process, not the discussion — that is open and people expressed themselves. However, people should be free to vote their conscience and not be intimidated.”

None of the key sources would reveal any vote specifics. “Members of organizations have the right to ask their organizations how they voted,” stated one individual. “They can choose to tell them or not tell them. But that’s an internal matter for each organization,” adding, the ballots are now locked away “in a safe place.”

Asked what the lopsided vote of rejection says about the Conference, one source replied, “This vote actually was not about the Conference. This was about J Street, and the proportion of the vote, I think, speaks to the fact that this was not one extreme or another. This was the expression of the majority of the members of the Conference. Had it gone the other way, I don’t know that people would have criticized. But it went against J Street, and some took the opportunity to grandstand.”

Asked if this is the first time the vote and the results have played out so publicly, one source replied, “No. It could be about any issue,” adding, “There is a lot of ignorance. Our choice is not to engage in public confrontation over these issues. But people write things that have no relationship to what really occurred or to what the Conference’s deliberative engagements are, or what the Conference even does for that matter.”

As an example of false reports, one key source stated, “I just saw a piece today where somebody was writing about the Conference and it was completely wrong — about how votes are allocated. The reform movement and the conservative movement, for example, don’t have one vote each, as has been written. Actually, with their affiliates, they each have four votes. The reform movement affiliates are the Union of Reform Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and ARZA—the Association of Reform Zionists of America. The conservative movement also has four votes through their affiliates: the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly, and MERCAZ — which is the Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement. So it is has been disingenuous to keep saying their movements only had one vote when, in truth, they each had four votes. So now take those two movements — and then you have eight of the votes for J Street.”

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