Malcolm Hoenlein’s passion for unity and anonymity has allowed him to serve as the king of the Jews for the past three decades. Now, an aggressive U.S. president – and widening splits in the American Jewish community – threaten his rule.
Allison Hoffman writing in Tablet Magazine:
… By day, Hoenlein is known as the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – an unrevealing title that endows him with responsibility for daily management of the umbrella group that serves as the de facto central council of American Jewry. At 66, he has the thinning hair and rimless glasses of a technocrat, which seems appropriate for his identity as the relatively anonymous functionary who supports the heads of the various organizations he represents. Aside from occasional comments to the press, usually in his capacity as a spokesman for the Conference, Hoenlein maintains a low public profile; he is virtually unknown to the millions of Jews on whose behalf he works.
But behind the scenes in Washington, in Jerusalem, and in the power circles of the organized Jewish world in New York, Hoenlein—usually referred to simply as “Malcolm”—is the face of American Jewry. Prime ministers call him. So do, from time to time, presidents. Ambassadors wait, patiently, to meet with him. Hillary Clinton, as a U.S. senator, attended at his daughter’s wedding; so did Rush Limbaugh. Billionaires like Ronald Lauder and Mortimer Zuckerman rely on him as an adviser on Jewish affairs. In more than 40 years of quasi-public Jewish service, starting in the Soviet Jewry movement, Hoenlein has built “the greatest Rolodex in the world,” according to Shoshana Cardin, a former chairwoman of the Conference. “The value of Malcolm is not that he opens doors,” explained one senior official at a Jewish organization, who first encountered Hoenlein in the 1970s. “It’s that he’s the clearinghouse. The perception is that he knows everything that is going on in American Jewish life.”