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Jewish Groups on Obama: JCPA Liked the Speech, ZOA Isn't That Into Him

Jewish Groups on Obama: JCPA Liked the Speech, ZOA Isn't That Into Him

Jewish organizations generally don’t react quickly to events unless they involve terror attacks in Israel or blatantly anti-Semitic statements by foreign dictators, but one organization managed to whip out a response to President Obama’s jobs speech—a favorable one, as it happens—less than an hour after the president finished speaking.

The quick response was from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which calls itself “the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community.” Its Chair and President (lay leader and staff director in Jewish organization-speak) issued a statement via mass e-mail blast at 8:34 p.m., a little over 45 minutes after the speech ended, endorsing the spending parts of Obama’s $450 billion plan.

The statement quotes the Chair, Dr. Conrad Giles, urging Congress to “begin work on the President’s recommendations for improvements to our homes, schools, and roads without delay” and to re-hire teachers and health care providers — while adding the council’s own appeal for more police and firefighters. Here’s how Giles is quoted:

Also quoted is the council’s President, Rabbi Steve Gutow, endorsing the part about extending unemployment insurance. The statement doesn’t address the tax-cut parts of the plan. At the conclusion, there’s a stab at bi-partisanship:

The endorsement is unusual for several reasons. Supporting the president used to be an expression of patriotism, but these days it’s generally seen as a partisan act. In consequence, most Jewish non-profits tend to steer well clear of domestic issues. It’s not that they’re really afraid of losing their tax-free status. They used to talk about economic and social justice all the time. Other religious groups are unabashedly ideological, in both directions. But the big Jewish agencies are afraid of conservative donors getting mad and walking away with their money.

So why is this Jewish organization different from all other Jewish organizations?

JCPA is different for two reasons: It consists of other organizations, rather than donor-members, and it makes its decisions by majority vote rather than consensus. Its members are 14 national Jewish agencies, including the four main synagogue unions (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist), the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, Hadassah and a few others—plus 125 local bodies, mostly community relations committees of local Jewish federations. Its general policies are adopted at a yearly convention where each member organization gets a vote, and since most of the local CRCs are pretty liberal on domestic affairs, the council ends up being pretty liberal.

Also weighing in on President Obama today was the Zionist Organization of America, which e-mailed an op-ed to Jewish press outlets at 5:41 with the provocative title, “Are President Obama’s Actions Hostile to Israel?” At the risk of spoiling the ending, the piece answers its own question with a resounding Yes:

Wait. We’re just getting wound up. Consider this:

Here’s one big difference between the ZOA and other Jewish organizations. Others avoid wading into controversy because they don’t want to be accused of taking sides. ZOA takes sides.

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

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Jewish Groups on Obama: JCPA Liked the Speech, ZOA Isn't That Into Him

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