Civility should be their top priority in dialogues with other groups and among Jews themselves, the leader of a top Jewish policy-making group told state Jewish leaders.

“Civility is our first and foremost and probably the most important thing we do. Decimation and defamation politics is alive in America, the world and in our community,” said Steve Gutow, the Reconstructionist rabbi who is president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “This is not a good way to get to a solution. It’s not going to get us anywhere.”

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Rabbi Steve Gutow Courtesy New Jersey Jewish News

He spoke before officers and executive committee members of the State Association of Jewish Federations, who gathered for their annual meeting July 9 at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains. The JCPA represents Jewish community relations councils and leading national Jewish organizations.

Partisan infights among Jews are “quite stupid,” Gutow said. “They keep us from moving forward, and keep us as a community, keep us as a country, keep us as a world from being what we can, from finding solutions, and from moving forward.”

Suggesting alternate ways of speaking with political adversaries, he recalled his outreach to a Protestant leader who was about to sign a letter condemning Israel.

“I just picked up the phone and called him,” Gutow said. “We talked for hours. We’re actually organizing a meeting now between just the top people in each of about 14 Jewish and Christian organizations to talk through this. I think we’re going to make this work.”

Similarly, he said, a quiet alliance between his organization and delegates to the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly enabled the defeat of an Israeli boycott resolution by a two-vote margin.

“Don’t make a table with just your friends,” he urged. “Make a table with all the people in the community you could possibly work with. Don’t limit. Because when the table is big, we have become the solution. If someone says, ‘We are not going to deal with J Street,’ then we are not going to be successful,” he said, referring to the left-leaning Israel advocacy group.

Gutow said the JCPA is working with the UJA-Federation of New York in a young leadership project so that “people age 20 to 40 learn how to talk to each other about Israel. It is happening all over the country.”

Before Gutow’s speech, the JCPA’s president emerita, Ruth Cole of Ridgewood, was honored for her three years of service.

Incoming president Mark Levenson saluted Cole for her “absolutely fantastic job as a great, great leader.”

Among the new officers was Susan Penn of Alpine, who began serving as vice president, representing the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.