Why I Support J Street Joining the Conference of Presidents (Hint: It’s Not about J Street)



This week the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations will meet to consider the application for membership from J Street. J Street, which calls itself “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” has successfully completed all the administrative requirements for membership. The Conference – which exists to bring together the entire Jewish, pro-Israel community – now has to decide if it will create an ideological litmus test for membership. Doing so would undermine its very reason for existing.

The Conference of Presidents was founded in 1956, at a time of great growth in American Jewish organizations. At the time, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his administration wanted a streamlined way to consult with the American Jewish community, rather than having to reach out to or poll dozens of organizations. The conference established a unified voice for the community, one that government officials could consult on important matters.

If the Conference begins to limit its membership based on organizations’ views on specific policy issues, it ceases to represent the entire American Jewish community. The vote this week is, therefore, a referendum not on J Street but on the Conference itself.

I sometimes agree with J Street and sometimes disagree with J Street, much like every other member of the Conference. I think, for example, that their support for Secretary of State Kerry’s peace efforts has been smart and well-developed. I think they were largely wrong on the timing of Iran sanctions. I could offer a similar analysis of virtually every member of the Conference.

Most importantly, it simply does not pass the “smell test” to argue that J Street is outside the mainstream of American Jewish life. The J Street Rabbinic Cabinet, for example, comprises more than 800 rabbis, cantors, and rabbinic students, including five past presidents of the nation’s largest rabbinic organization, the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The questions for the Conference are stark. Does the “pro-Israel” tent stretch as far to the left as it does to the right? Is it the role of the Conference to enforce one political point of view, or to provide a forum in which different voices are heard? Will the Conference close its ranks or continue to serve as the central address for the Jewish community on Israel issues?

The Union for Reform Judaism will support J Street’s application for membership in the Conference of Presidents. We will do so because we believe in the role the Conference plays in our community. Excluding J Street would make clear that the Conference is no longer the voice of the entire American Jewish community on Israel issues. That would be a real loss to our community.

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

About Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the URJ. See his full bio and other writings on the URJ website.

3 Responses to “Why I Support J Street Joining the Conference of Presidents (Hint: It’s Not about J Street)”

  1. avatar

    Thank you, Rabbi Jacobs. I’d like to add that if the Israel tent (yes, Israel, not just pro-Israel tent) stretched as far to the Left as it does to the Right, JVP and other BDS-supporting groups would be included. I don’t mean this as a scare tactic, but rather to point out how our community indulges radical Right-wing views, ones that could be seen as hateful or even racist, but does not consider radical Left views as normative or even Jewish.

    J Street, as a moderate, peace-loving, and firmly pro-Israel organization should not be a controversial addition to an organizations that claims to represent American Jewry.

  2. avatar

    Why don’t you disclose your affiliation with J Street. You try to make it sound as though you are even handed, but you clearly are not. Your lack of disclosure speaks volumes.

    I also find your article ironic considering that the Reform Movement (which is my synagogue) is so political that no views are allowed from Republicans or others who disagree with the Democratic party or other left views.

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