I decided to figure out who they do represent.
The Pew survey interviewed 3,500 Jewish people across the country, many of whom have little to do with the Jewish community. Most of them said that they are skeptical of the Israeli government, but Jewish leaders asserted that they don’t answer to unengaged Jews.
“Part of Jewish leadership is leadership,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told me. “We lead.”
So who chooses who leads? Mostly wealthy donors and local activists. Below, I identified the electors who picked six of the men heading the core Jewish establishment advocacy groups.
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Who hired him: The Conference of Presidents didn’t get back to me when I asked how they pick their top professional leader. Maybe they’ve forgotten — there’s been no change in the executive suite there for almost 30 years. I assume that Hoenlein was chosen by the Conference’s member organizations.
Who’s that?: There are 50 organizations that belong to the Conference, some of them more “major” than others. The American Jewish Committee and AIPAC belong to the Conference, massive groups that spend tens of millions a year. So does the America-Israel Friendship League, which got just $750,000 in contributions in 2011.
Who hired him: The ADL didn’t answer my question on this, either. I assume that the national director is chosen by the group’s national commission, though, again, that hasn’t happened in nearly 30 years.
Who’s that?: The national commission’s current chair is Barry Curtiss-Lusher, CEO of Nexus Resources, an oil and gas exploration firm. Other members, as of the group’s last tax filing, include former Conference of Presidents chair Kenneth Bialkin and current Conference of Presidents chair Robert Sugarman.
American Jewish Committee
Who hired him: The AJC’s board of governors hired Harris based on a nomination made by a search committee.
Who’s that?: The current chair of the AJC’s board of governors is Richard Berkman, a Philadelphia attorney. A full list of governors is not available on the AJC’s website. The current president of the group’s executive council, a subset of the board of governors, is Stanley Bergman, CEO of medical supply manufacturer Henry Schein, Inc.
American Israel Public Affairs Committee
Who hired him: AIPAC didn’t respond to my email asking how they choose their executive director, but this document says that the decision is made by AIPAC’s board of directors.
Who’s that?: AIPAC doesn’t list its board members on its website. As of the group’s last tax filing, the president of the board was Lee Rosenberg, a Chicago investor. Steve Grossman, the treasurer of Massachusetts and a 2014 gubernatorial candidate, a former AIPAC chair, also appears on the latest board member list.
Rabbi Steve Gutow
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Who hired him: The board of the JCPA decides who will run the organization.
Who’s that?: The JCPA board is made up of representatives of 15 national Jewish organizations (AJC, ADL, JFNA, etc.) plus representatives of local Jewish community relations councils. The current chair is Larry Gold, an Atlanta attorney.
The Jewish Federations of North America
Who hired him: The JFNA executive committee selected Silverman, then received approval from the JFNA board of trustees.
Who’s that?: Most of the members of the board are representatives of local Jewish federations. The board’s officers, who also serve on the executive committee, are wealthy donors. The current chair of the board, Michael D. Siegal, is chairman and CEO of Olympic Steel, a major steel processing firm. He has also been on the AIPAC board. The current chair of the executive committee is Diane S. Feinberg, a Hillel board member whose husband Ken Feinberg was Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
Who Do Jewish Leaders Really Represent?
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.