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Had the Conference been using these criteria on April 30, J Street, which enjoyed the backing of many the umbrella group’s largest constituent members, might well have gotten in. But a former official with a Jewish organization who participated in Conference meetings, said that previous attempts to address these issues were all turned down.
Another option would be to review the standing of current member organizations to see if they still pass the bar set for acceptance. Some of the smaller groups have declined greatly in activity and membership since joining decades ago, but still remain in the Conference. “How many of the Conference of Presidents’ current members would win the support of 2/3 of the membership today?” asked Jacobs in the statement put out by URJ.
Attempts to reform the Conference were underway even before the debate over J Street’s admission. Americans for Peace Now, a constituent member with views similar to J Street’s, has reached out to the umbrella group’s leaders asking for changes in its decision making process.
APN, which underwent extensive critical scrutiny before winning its own seat at the Conference two decades ago, has taken issue with what it views as the Conference’s lack of transparency. In a May 1 press release, APN said it has also sought reform of the umbrella group’s “problematic procedures” for expressing what it is supposed to be the community’s consensus views. Some important Conference policy statements, APN charges, were never vetted with all members and did not necessarily represent that consensus.
APN’s requests were submitted to the Conference several months ago and referred for consideration to a committee, which has yet to report back.
J Street, whose rejection triggered much of the debate over the future of the Presidents Conference, has followed the controversy from afar. “Given that we are not members of the Conference of Presidents, we are not in a position to reform it,” said Rachel Lerner, the group’s senior vice president for community relations, “but we would certainly be supportive of our allies in doing so and would be appreciative of what they are trying to do for the Jewish community.”
Conference of Presidents chairman Robert Sugerman and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein did not respond to requests for comment.
Contact Nathan Guttman on Twitter @nathanguttman