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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.

In spite of the Conference source’s comment about the MERCAZ vote, a MERCAZ blog states the opposite, that the organization broke with the movement and voted against membership.

J Street only received 17 votes out of 42 present. If indeed, many were from the two synagogue movements combined, reform and conservative, then only 9 among the others voted yes. One of those yes votes came from the Anti-Defamation League. “We will support the admission of J Street not because we agree with them, not because we support their views, but in order to ensure the integrity and credibility of American Jewish advocacy and of the Conference of Presidents,” ADL national director told the JTA’s veteran correspondent Ron Kampeas. In a countering view, Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, writing in the Jerusalem Post, assembled a litany of actions by J Street that his organization found worthy of a negative vote. One example Weiss cited in his article specified, “Just a few days before the Conference of Presidents vote on J Street, it became public that US Secretary of State John Kerry had been quoted as saying Israel could become an apartheid country, and that J Street defended Kerry’s remark.”

“So,” a key source commented, “It is incorrect to reduce it all ‘Lefties or Righties’ — it was actually the center.”

The key sources focused in on the public statements of the reform and conservative movement leadership. One stated, “Right now, there appears to be a lot of resentment within the conservative and the reform movements over what happened, complaining that leaders spoke for them without consulting. There has been a backlash against the leaders for going public and taking extreme positions in public statements. There was a public petition signed by members of the reform movement and conservative moment, and they published various full page ads in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the Washington Jewish Week and other newspapers. They said: Who did you consult in making a decision on how to vote? ‘You don’t speak for me voting for J Street.’”

During the public fallout following the J Street rejections, the Presidents Conference was frequently criticized for operating in a secret or shrouded fashion. But when asked about this criticism, one key source rebutted, “The only thing that was secret was the actual ballot. Everything else was done with full information provided to the members. The membership committee is broadly representative of the Conference. Obviously, you cannot have a committee of the whole. But like every committee, it tries to have reform, conservative, left, right, big organizations, and small organizations all represented. Believe me, if the conference goes off in a direction that is really not representative of the consensus, the whole world will hear it, because they rush to the press. You have some media that is always ready to exploit it.”

That source was asked again if anyone went out of their way to block or prevent J Street? “No — not at all,” that source replied, adding, “They were given — and J Street will tell you they were given — every opportunity. [J Street executive director] Jeremy Ben Ami was invited to speak to the committee and to answer questions — which he did. Remember, three presidents of member organizations [of the Conference] sit on J Street boards, so their point of view was represented.”

In the aftermath of the rejection, where does the Conference go from here? “Part of the brilliance of the founders of the Conference,” stated one source, “is that they didn’t set hard-core bylaws. Some twenty years ago, ‘process and procedures guidelines’ were prepared so that it would actually have some set rules. The ‘process and procedures’ committee will afford an opportunity to anyone who wishes to make suggestions or raise issues about the process or the issues that were raised. Many certainly would welcome it.”

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