Conference of Presidents Pick Hailed By Groups Critical of Hoenlein’s Role

By Rebecca Spence

Published April 20, 2007, issue of April 20, 2007.
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Internal critics of the umbrella organization widely viewed as the American Jewish community’s consensus voice on Middle East affairs are lauding the nominee to head the group.

June Walker, national president of the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, was tapped Monday to chair the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Walker, a veteran volunteer leader in the Jewish community, will be only the second woman to chair the 52-member umbrella body (the first was Shoshana Cardin, in the early 1990s).

In recent years, several liberal and centrist member organizations have complained that the Presidents Conference fails to function democratically. They argued that the umbrella organization’s top executive, Malcolm Hoenlein, wields too much power. Some of these critics are praising the selection of Walker.

“The constituents are a significant part of this umbrella, and therefore there needs to be greater participation in the decision-making process. It cannot be a one- or two-person show,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “June Walker is one who believes there should be more participatory leadership, and if she’s willing to try, we’re willing to make it happen,” he said.

The chairperson of the conference traditionally works hand in hand with Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman.

Recent chairmen have included cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, publishing tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman and James Tisch, CEO of Loews Corporation. Walker will replace the most recent chairman, investment banker Harold Tanner, a former president of the American Jewish Committee.

Tisch, who served as chair of the nominating committee, said that the committee’s decision to nominate Walker was unanimous. “She comes with a lot of energy and moxie, and it was unanimously agreed by the committee that she would make an excellent chairman,” he said. “She was the most qualified, and as an added bonus she’s female.”

Walker, who has also served as national vice president and national chairman of the Hadassah College of Technology, said that the challenge during her tenure would be to “elicit an accurate consensus of the major Jewish organizations, specifically in regard to the Israeli-American relationship.”

She also stressed the need to bring more member organizations into the conference’s policymaking discussions. “Certainly, decisions made are arrived at by consensus, and I would hope that the participation in that consensus building will be increased,” she said.

Hoenlein concurred, saying, “We want maximum involvement on the part of the agencies.”






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