President Barack Obama meets with leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the state dining room at the White House on March 1, 2011. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Since the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted April 30 to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street, the umbrella group has come under siege with accusations of not being adequately representative of U.S. Jewry’s views and for being controlled by a faction of right-wing members.
Yet a closer look at the Conference’s makeup reveals the prevalence of politically centrist or apolitical organizations – particularly among its largest members – such as Jewish National Fund, Hadassah, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, Jewish Federations of North America and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Also included in the Conference are openly liberal groups such as Ameinu and Americans for Peace Now.
“A majority of the groups voting against J Street were secular, centrist groups, not religious or right-wing,” Zionist Organization of America national president Morton A. Klein suggested, noting that by his count there are no more than 11 religious or right-wing groups among the Conference’s 50 members.
“To say it’s not inclusive when you have Peace Now, Ameinu, [American Friends of] Likud and ZOA in the Conference, is an absurd statement,” Klein added.
J Street responded to the vote with a letter on its website addressed to Conference of Presidents executive vice-chairman/chief executive officer Malcolm Hoenlein, stating, “Dear Malcolm: 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.”
To gain membership in the Conference, J Street needed the support of two-thirds of the body’s members. Forty-two members showed up for the vote, whose final tally was 22 against J Street, 17 in favor and three abstentions.