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May 1, 2014, New York, NY – In response to yesterday's vote by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to reject J Street's application for membership, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs made the following statement:
Yesterday's vote by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to reject J Street's application for membership made clear what many have long known, but not said publicly: That the Conference of Presidents is captive of a large number of small organizations that do not represent the diversity of views in our community. As many of us argued before and at the meeting, yesterday's debate was actually a referendum not on J Street but on the Conference of Presidents itself. As of yesterday, it is clear that the Conference of Presidents, as currently constituted and governed, no longer serves its vital purpose of providing a collective voice for the entire American Jewish pro-Israel community.
In the days ahead, Reform Movement leaders will be consulting with our partners within the Conference of Presidents to decide what our next steps will be. We may choose to advocate for a significant overhaul of the Conference of Presidents' processes. We may choose to simply leave the Conference of Presidents. But this much is certain: We will no longer acquiesce to simply maintaining the facade that the Conference of Presidents represents or reflects the views of all of American Jewry.
We want to be clear: The Conference of Presidents followed its own procedures meticulously. It is, in fact, those procedures that all but dictated the result.
The member organizations of the Reform and Conservative movements, which encompass the overwhelming majority of American Jews, all voted to support J Street's admission. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which represents 14 national and 125 local community relations agencies, voted "yes," as did the Anti-Defamation League. Still this group was primarily "outvoted" by those that constitute the right wing of the North American Jewish community. To be sure, there is room for those at the table, but they should not be allowed to keep others from participating.
The Conference of Presidents' membership procedures also give preference to older organizations over new ones. The threshold for membership is high – a new member requires a "yes" vote of 2/3 of the current membership for admission. That challenge is exacerbated by the requirement that an applicant receive votes not just from 2/3 of those member organizations in attendance at the decision-making meeting, but of the overall Conference of Presidents membership. That means any organization that cannot – or chooses not to – attend, is counted as a "no" vote. Moreover, there is no process by which to review the existing membership. How many of the Conference of Presidents' current members would win the support of 2/3 of the membership today?
One need not always agree with J Street to recognize that its constituency is young, energetic, fast-growing, and activism-oriented. All of those qualities would be an asset to the important work of the Conference of Presidents. When I spoke last month at a J Street U "Town Hall," I was impressed by the deep commitment of its leaders to the land, state, and people of Israel. Shutting their voices out of our communal discussion only serves to expose how narrow that discussion has become.
No one is suggesting that J Street be given "veto power" over actions by the Conference of Presidents – just that they should have a place at the table. I have to wonder what those who voted against J Street yesterday are so afraid of.