'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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The internal dissent building within the liberal wing of the Conference has largely been channeled toward a campaign for reforming the institution, but calls for more drastic steps are still on the table.

Jacobs, who ignited the discussion with his May 1 statement threatening that his organization “may choose to simply leave the Conference of Presidents” made clear that if restructuring of the Conference will not move ahead, “there is still a possibility that we will leave.”

Sources close to the deliberations within the Reform movement said, however, that full withdrawal from the Conference is not a desired course of action for the largest denomination and that other groups also expressed their opposition to leaving the umbrella group.

Short of leaving, Reform, Conservative and left-leaning organizations in the Conference, have discussed several measures that could change the decision-making process within the umbrella group. All share the notion of giving more weight to large organizations, instead of the current structure of “one group, one vote” that does not distinguish between major groups and smaller organizations.

Proportional weighting of organizations has been discussed in the past by leaders of the Presidents Conference and was deemed impractical. Now, with a groundswell of support for reform, some alternative ideas have been floated to resolve the representation issue.

One proposal is to form an executive committee within the Conference of Presidents that would be in charge of most of the decisions. This is a model similar to that of the United Nations, where all countries get an equal vote at the General Assembly but only the large powers have a permanent seat on the Security Council. Another would be rewarding larger organizations with more responsibilities just like Senators who represent larger constituencies are elected for longer terms than members of the House of Representatives who represent only one district.

“The silver lining in the J Street debate is that maybe [Conference leaders] will see there are concerns that need to be addressed,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an organization that supported J Street’s request for membership. “Every organization, including the Conference, needs to look at what important members are telling them.”

The JCPA, whose members include both national organizations and local Jewish Communality Relations Committees, adopted a weighted vote system for its own resolution process more than a decade ago. At the JCPA plenums, each group gets a number of votes based on its size.


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