J Street Backed by Reform's Rick Jacobs

URJ Leader Pushes for Presidents Conference Admission


Published April 26, 2014.
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The leader of Reform Jewry has backed J Street’s effort to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, says the mission of the Presidents Conference, the communal foreign policy umbrella body, would be compromised if it rejected the application of the dovish Israel policy group.

The group will decide whether to admit J Street in a vote on Wednesday.

“It’s critical for the very concept of what the Conference of Presidents is meant to be,” said Jacobs, who was the first — and so far the only one — to return my call. “It’s not meant to be a group of people that agree on everything. It’s meant to be a group of organizations that come together to do holy work and strengthen the values they stand for.”

J Street bills itself as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” It is unstinting in its criticism of settlement expansion and strongly supports the current Iran nuclear talks, which the Israeli government sees as giving up too much too soon to the Islamic Republic.

Before he assumed the URJ’s presidency, Jacobs was a member of J Street’s Rabbinic Cabinet. He suggested that experience is informing his advocacy for getting the group inside the Presidents Conference, noting that hundreds of Reform rabbis were affiliated with the group.

“It’s part of a larger communal discourse about Israel and Middle East peace,” he said. “How can we foster that deep thoughtful debate, and that could be an example to other organizations about how they can foster the debate in their own communities?”

J Street faces hurdles in Wednesday’s vote. The membership committee of the Presidents Conference, as the Forward reported, passed on recommending J Street, although the group met conference administrative requirements. Now J Street needs two thirds of a quorum (75 percent of the membership) to get in.

There has been some fierce opposition to J Street joining, particularly from the Zionist Organization of America, which has ramped up its broadsides against the group.

Jacobs, like the JCPA, has been busy getting out the word in favor, noting in those conversations J Street’s role in pushing back against divestment from Israel.

“I know the strong feelings organizations have about J Street,” he said. “There are many people who have their critique of J Street and other organizations. The very concept of the Conference of Presidents will be tested.”

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