J Street Fails To Win Over Key Committee for Presidents Conference Membership

Dovish Group 'Grilled' by Pro-Israel Hawks at Meeting

Uphill Fight: J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami came under attack at a committee meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
j street
Uphill Fight: J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami came under attack at a committee meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 11, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

J Street, the dovish Israel lobby, has failed to win the endorsement of a crucial committee for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — a development that makes it unlikely to win admission to the key umbrella group.

In an April 11 meeting described as a “grilling” by participants, members of the Presidents Conference closely questioned J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, who came to make the case for accepting his group into the conference.

The Manhattan meeting, held by the conference’s membership committee in preparation for J Street’s application being brought before the full conference on April 30, found that J Street fulfills the administrative and governance requirements in the conference’s bylaws. But most of the discussion focused on J Street’s views on Israel.

The gathering attracted a dozen representatives of Presidents Conference member organizations to attend personally while six other representatives joined in by phone. According to several sources present, many of the questions posed to Ben-Ami carried a critical tone.

One question was about the support J Street’s political action committee gave to Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, who was described at the meeting as anti-Israel. Another questioned donations J Street had received from liberal billionaire George Soros. The hedge fund manager and philanthropist drew flack from Jewish leaders in 2003 for his comment that the policies of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then-U.S. President George Bush towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza contributed to a resurgence in European anti-Semitism.

Participants at the meeting also claimed that J Street had supported the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone report, which found that Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas had committed numerous war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during their conflict in late 2008 and early 2009.

Questioners also quoted a critique of J Street prepared by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Some alleged that J Street cooperates with groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, which are harshly critical of Israel’s policies.

Contacted after the meeting, J Street officials would not respond directly to claims made in the meeting, citing an agreement to keep the discussions private. The group has stressed publicly that it opposes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. But J Street also states that it believes that it serves “the long-term health and vibrancy of our community to engage in discussions of the substance of these issues, even – and especially – when we have fundamental disagreements with some of the individuals or organizations we debate.”

According to an account provided to the Forward by one participant and confirmed by another, at the meeting Ben-Ami attempted to respond to most of the questions and took issue with the accuracy of some of the questioners’ factual assertions. Among these was a claim that J Street’s support for American aid to the Palestinian Authority was out of step with the views of the organized Jewish community and of Israel.

In the discussion, one participant asked whether J Street would agree to accept the Presidents’ Conference rules that require all members to adhere to consensus positions adopted by the conference, and if J Street would refrain from criticizing other Jewish groups.

The membership committee reached no decision on J Street’s bid for membership after the meeting. “After careful consideration,” wrote the committee’s chair Rabbi Vernon Kurtz of the American Zionist Movement in a summary sent to all conference member organizations, “[we] decided not to take a vote, but to refer the membership application of J Street for consideration by the full membership of the Conference at the Conference’s General Meeting to be held on April 30, 2014.”

A decision to accept J Street will require a quorum of 75% members and two-thirds of the votes to pass. The tone and content of Thursday’s discussion could indicate that reaching such a majority will be difficult.

Jessica Rosenblum , J Street’s spokeswoman, said in a statement that the group is hopeful that the Conference ultimately decides to accept J Street “and, in so doing, to embrace the challenge of building a representative body that reflects the breadth, depth and vigor of the community itself.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.