'Broken' Presidents Conference Faces Powerful Rebellion After J Street Debacle

Reform and Moderate Groups Say Change Must Come Now

j street

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 07, 2014.
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American Jewry’s large centrist and liberal groups are seeking to radically reform the community’s main umbrella organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. This new effort is the biggest fallout yet from the Presidents Conference’s controversial decision to reject the membership bid of J Street, the dovish Israel lobby.

In a May 6 conference call, leaders from a number of groups, including the Reform movement, stated their desire to overhaul the Presidents Conference in order to make it more representative of the American Jewish community.

The conversation, which participants described as private, was a first step at what is shaping into a concerted effort to translate widespread frustration following the rejection of J Street into a drive to reform the Presidents Conference from within.

“This is about the Conference of Presidents, not about J Street,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in an interview.

Jacobs, who has emerged as the leader of the pact calling for an overhaul of the 50-year-old umbrella organization, insisted that the campaign to change practices and procedures at the Conference was not a retaliatory step taken by groups that supported J Street and lost their bid.

“I have every reason to believe that we must and can reform and restructure the parts of the Conference of Presidents that are deeply broken,” he said.

The call for change, first voiced by backers of J Street after the April 30 vote that left the group outside the Conference, has been gaining some mainstream support. Alan Solow, a former chairman of the Presidents Conference, told the Forward he welcomes the discussion.

“The kind of divisiveness that is arising after the debate on J Street threatens to damage the Conference going forward,” said Solow, who also co-chairs the organization’s committee on policies and procedures, “and therefore it is worth having further discussions on whether the way the Conference operates makes sense.” Solow would not take a position on specific ideas for change or on whether change is needed, but stressed that “this is an occasion to take a look” at current procedures.


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