One of the most interesting and curious aspects of the J Street membership vote in the Conference of Presidents is the fact that it was conducted by secret ballot. Thus an institution that presumes to be one of the most broadly representative bodies in the American Jewish community takes one of its most fraught and hotly discussed decisions in years and the delegates don’t let their presumed constituents know what they’ve done in their names.
In fact, though, not everyone kept their votes secret. Some members made their views public, either by discussing it with the press, informing J Street or speaking up during the brief debate before the voting at the meeting.
The official result of the vote was 17 organizations in favor of admission, 22 against, 3 abstentions and 8 members absent, for a total of 50. That’s the number of member organizations listed on the Presidents Conference website . (Actually there were 17 “yes” votes cast by 18 organizations, because two members, the Jewish Labor Committee and the Workmen’s Circle, share a vote for historic reasons. Consequently, there must have been 7 absentees, not 8.)
I think I’ve identified all 17 of the “yes” votes, 14 of the 22 “no” votes, 2 abstentions and 5 absentees. I’m left with 11 whose actions are unknown. Of the unknowns, 5 are known to have been present at the vote, which means they either voted “no” or abstained (again, all the “yes” votes are accounted for). The other 6 weren’t known to my sources; 2 of them were absent, and the other 4 voted “no” or abstained. The bottom line is that 7 organizations voted against J Street’s membership but haven’t acknowledged it. The beauty of the system is that it allows them to keep their actions from the public, their members and their donors.
Among them are several of the wealthiest and most influential organizations in Jewish life, including AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.
Note that nobody who voted to admit J Street kept their vote secret. The only members who have chosen to hide their actions were those who voted “no” or abstained.
Would J Street have been admitted to the conference if member-organizations were required to cast their votes openly, before the eyes of the public and their own members? Hard to say, but worth thinking about…
Here’s the list, as near as I can determine (updated late Saturday night) (apologies in advance if there are any mistakes — let me know of errors and I’ll correct them at once):
General/Non-ideological: Anti-Defamation League; American Zionist Movement (confederation of U.S. Zionist organizations); Jewish Council for Public Affairs (confederation of advocacy agencies & local Jewish councils); HIAS.
Left-leaning: Ameinu (Labor Zionist); Americans for Peace Now; Jewish Labor Committee; Workmen’s Circle.
Conservative: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (congregations); Women’s League for Conservative Judaism; Rabbinical Assembly.
Reform: Union for Reform Judaism (congregations); Central Conference of American Rabbis; ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America), Women of Reform Judaism.
Women (non-denominational): Jewish Women International (former name B’nai B’rith Women); Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization; National Council of Jewish Women.
General/Non-ideological: Alpha Epsilon Pi (college fraternity): America-Israel Friendship League; NCSJ (former name National Conference on Soviet Jewry).
Right-leaning: American Friends of Likud; CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America); JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs); ZOA (Zionist Organization of America).
Orthodox: OU (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America); National Council of Young Israel (Orthodox congregations); Rabbinical Council of America; Religious Zionists of America; Amit Women (Orthodox Zionist); Emunah Women (Orthodox Zionist).
Conservative: Mercaz USA.
(reported, unconfirmed:) Jewish Federations of North America, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
PRESENT, VOTE UNKNOWN (“no” or abstained):
AIPAC; American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; B’nai Zion; B’nai B’rith International; Jewish National Fund.
Jewish Community Centers Association, Naamat USA (Labor Zionist women), World ORT, ORT America, American Gathering/Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
NO INFORMATION (either voted “no,” abstained or absent):
American Jewish Congress; American Sephardi Federation; Friends of the Israel Defense Forces; Israel Bonds/Development Corp. for Israel; Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; Women’s International Zionist Organization.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).