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Forget J Street; Should We Accept the Conference of Presidents?

A bad decision raises questions about the group that claims to speak for us all

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J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami. (J Street)

I don’t like J Street.

Since its establishment in 2008, it has taken a host of positions I’ve found maddening and even some I’ve found morally deplorable, from its criticism of Israel’s counterattack of the Gazan terrorists who were lobbing missiles at its civilians to its insistence that America kowtow to the nuclear-hungry regime in Iran. I was also dismayed by the group’s obvious partisan politics: For all of its hawkish reputation, if you attended AIPAC’s 2013 policy conference, you would’ve heard from Joe Biden and Eric Cantor, John McCain and Steny Hoyer, while J Street’s conference that year featured the vice president and Democratic senator Tim Kaine, making it clear that the self-proclaimed pro-Israel, pro-peace organization saw itself as little more than a representative of liberal politics. So, really, no love lost.

But not admitting it into the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is ridiculous—and does more to call into question the legitimacy and purpose of the Conference than of J Street.

For all of its bad ideas, J Street clearly supports Israel’s right to exist. It holds views that enough American Jews—including, one assumes, those who support the leftist Americans for Peace Now, already a member of the Conference of Presidents. And it may not boast the most robust membership, but, to be honest, neither do more than a few other organizations already admitted into the club.

Without a clear reasoning of the grounds on which J Street was rejected, without an open tally of the vote—without, that is, any measure of transparency or accountability—it is very difficult to entertain the thought that the Conference of Presidents does or ought to represent the American Jewish community at large. If the organization wants to keep its Olympian mantle—which, one might add, it already maintains for reasons that are unclear to many of the American Jews it purports to represent—it better open up and share its guidelines, thinking, and positions.

And here’s a call to readers: if you or anyone you know is a member of a Jewish organization, of whatever stripe, and you imagine yourself to be a person dedicated to the health and vibrancy of the Jewish community, you should pick up the phone today and demand to know how your member organization voted. Because it did so in your name.

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Forget J Street; Should We Accept the Conference of Presidents?

A bad decision raises questions about the group that claims to speak for us all

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