J Street disappointed by Conference of Presidents’ exclusion

April 30, 2014

J Street is disappointed that our bid for membership to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has been rejected.

This is a sad day for us, but also for the American Jewish community and for a venerable institution that has chosen to bar the door to the communal tent to an organization that represents a substantial segment of Jewish opinion on Israel.

We are, however, most heartened by the tremendous support we received from many of the largest and most prominent organizations in American Jewish communal life who urged their fellow members to join them in building a robust and representative community body, among them: Union for Reform JudaismJewish Council for Public AffairsAnti-Defamation League; the Central Conference of American RabbisRabbinical AssemblyUnited Synagogue of Conservative JudaismNational Council of Jewish Women; and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. We also understand that we received the votes of a number of other large organizations that chose not to go public.

We applied to the Conference of Presidents because we value Jewish community and the concept of a broad tent of pro-Israel organizations that truly represents our community’s diversity and dynamism. Unfortunately, our bid was thwarted by organizations on the right of the community who do not share those same values.

Since our inception six years ago, J Street has been a fast-growing, vibrant organization that has proudly advocated policies supported by a majority of Israelis and American Jews. We have quickly become a vital, thoughtful and refreshing voice on Israel, welcomed by many in the Jewish community and by many previously alienated by it. When an organization like ours is kept out of the American Jewish community’s official Israel umbrella organization, despite broad support, we should all be asking ourselves some hard questions.

In many ways the vote illustrates one of the key reasons that J Street was created in the first place and why we continue to grow: a large segment of the American Jewish community feels that it does not have a home or a voice within its traditional structures.

J Street stands for several key principles: support for the state of Israel; support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US leadership to achieve it; the notion that support for Israel does not equate to support for all the policies of its government; and the idea that open debate and discussion around Israel is healthy for the American Jewish community.

J Street’s message has garnered wide support in the American Jewish community. After only six years, we have the third largest annual gathering of any American Jewish organization, over 800 rabbis have joined our Rabbinic Cabinet, and we have chapters in 40 cities and states.

Our growth is particularly impressive on college campuses around the nation. In nearly 60 J Street U chapters, the community’s future leaders are finding a home where they can express their love of Israel in a manner informed by open democratic debate and the values on which they were raised.

We are especially disappointed that a minority of the farthest right wing organizations within the Conference has chosen to close the Conference’s doors to this emerging generation of inspiring and passionate young leaders. In the long run, it does a grave disservice to the American Jewish community to drive some of our brightest young people away and to tell them that there is no place for them in an ever-shrinking communal tent where the conversation on Israel’s future is limited.

This vote does not in any way diminish our commitment to Israel or to doing our part to build a vibrant and engaged Jewish community. We will continue to reach out to communal organizations around the country on a local level while looking at how to develop relationships and partnerships to give voice to our values at the national level in our fight to secure Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

We thank those who supported our application to the Conference and who sought to make the Conference more representative. We are buoyed by their partnership and look forward to our work together in the future.