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Josh Block, president and CEO of the Israel Project and a harsh critic of J Street, sought to rebut Jacobs’s claim. “It is saddening,” Block told the Forward, “to see decent people like the head of one of the Reform organizations distorting the diversity of the Conference.”
In fact, Block argued, the Presidents Conference “leans left or a-political, but not right.” He cited the presence within the umbrella group of groups such as Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu and Arza “that support its mission to strengthen the Jewish community, and the US-Israel relationship.” (The Israel Project is not a Conference member.)
If URJ ever were to actually leave the Presidents Conference, it would be a significant blow to the umbrella organization, whose credibility stands on its claim to be speaking on behalf of the entire community. Leaders of Conservative Judaism posed a similar challenge to the Conference. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said in an interview shortly after the vote that members of the Presidents Conference should “examine the structure” of the organization and find ways of “closing the gap between the popular vote and the organizational vote.” Together, the Reform and Conservative denominations represent the vast majority of Jewish synagogue-goers.
Calls for reforming the Conference of Presidents’ procedures have focused primarily on its admissions process for new members. Its current rules give equal weight to organizations representing millions of members, such as the Reform and Conservative movements, and to those with small followings and limited activity, such as Likud-USA and the Jewish Labor Committee.
The rules also require that a new group be supported by two-thirds of the member organizations. Changing the admission rules might appear to be a quick fix. The Conference could require a simple majority and weigh the vote of each group based on its size.