JStreet and the Conference

JStreet and the Conference

Rabbi emeritus, Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge, Reform

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was created in the 1950s as a forum in which diverse American Jewish communal organizations would debate and dialogue on the issues of communal concern and then speak as the voice of the American Jewish community to both the American president and Congress. Formed in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel, for 60 years this umbrella organization has done a credible job of reflecting American Jewish consensus on the issues of the day.

Over this time, while organizations whose membership decreased were allowed to retain seats though their numbers hardly warranted the adjective “major,” new groups on both the religious and political right and left have been added. Having been privileged to participate in the debates and discussions when I represented the Labor Zionist Alliance as its national executive director in 1982-83, when there were 37 member organizations, I can assert personally that while seeking consensus was the goal of the President’s Conference, respectful debates on issues including Jewish settlement on the West Bank were its hallmark.

The April 30 vote to deny JStreet a seat at the President’s Conference table leads me to question whether it has outlived its relevance. If an organization with JStreet’s membership numbers and public profile is denied membership, can this conference continue to claim to be the consensus voice of the organized American Jewish community?

I have disagreed with JStreet statements more often than I have agreed with them. I write this as an American Jew who believes in the need to balance pluralism and unity in our community. I direct this letter to the member organizations of the President’s Conference, asking that a revote be taken on the Jstreet application immediately. If the result of that vote is the same, I ask that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations takes a vote to disband and admit that its mission has failed.