Is the Conference of Presidents Even Relevant?

The Conference [of Presidents] was created to serve as a united voice of the Jewish community but it has become a hodgepodge coalition of organizations that have, in the main, been bystanders in the major Jewish developments over the last two decades.

by Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein

The confrontation playing out in Jewish newspapers and blogs over the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s recent rejection of J-Street’s membership application is absurd for two reasons.

First and foremost, is the immature critique of those lambasting the Conference for its supposed ideological chauvinism. The rejection of J Street does not equal a rejection of pluralism. None of the progressive political or liberal religious groups were kicked out of the Conference. Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the Jewish progressive organizations and liberal religious streams, many of which hold views similar and in some cases indistinguishable from J Street, remain members of the Conference. Supporters of J Street are either being disingenuous and are aware of the full range of views in its membership or are willfully ignorant and have not even taken the time to go online and look at the Conference’s members.

Second, and of actual importance to the Jewish community, is that the Conference is a historical anachronism irrelevant to contemporary Jewish life. The Conference was created to serve as a united voice of the Jewish community but it has become a hodgepodge coalition of organizations that have, in the main, been bystanders in the major Jewish developments over the last two decades. It includes both umbrella organizations and their members in its membership. Both the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the American Zionist Movement (AZM), the WZO American affiliate which itself is a coalition of American Zionist groups, are members. AZM members Mercaz USA (the Conservative religious movement’s Zionist party), Bnai Zion (which some derisively call the “Hadassah men’s auxiliary”), the Religious Zionists of America, and the Association of Reform Zionists of America all sit individually in the Conference as well. The little known Jewish Labor Committee and its affiliates the Jewish Workmen’s Circle and Ameinu are all members, as well as several different legal arms of the centralized Conservative and Reform movements and the more decentralized Orthodox movement. World ORT, which has the majority of its projects outside of the US (from which the Israeli branch, ORT Israel, disaffiliated in 2006) and has 5 relatively small American educational schools, hardly a major organization in the American Jewish world, also sits as a member.

There are amazing formal and informal movements changing and engaging the Jewish world. The American World Service, Avodah, Moishe House, Birthright, and the New Israel Fund are contemporary Jewish organizations that are the sole or principle Jewish organizations in their field. The independent minyanim, Jewish charter school, Jewish food, and pro-Israel (Standwithus, Hasbara Fellowships, David Project, etc…) movements are all less centralized but substantive movements that represent large amounts of involved and engaged Jews. Formal or not, none of these movements and organizations effecting, embracing, and engaging the contemporary Jewish community is in the Conference.

That this present crisis has been manufactured is obvious; as pointed out by many observers, this was a skillfully played win-win public relations stunt by J Street that enabled it to garner Jewish media attention regardless of outcome. What is less obvious is both how the Conference represents, and what value-added benefit the Conference provides, the Jewish community.

Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein is a rabid (but non-totalitarian) secularist Jewish young adult from Hoboken, NJ. He is a conservative Republican and has Hispanic roots. He writes regularly at www.SaveJersey.com.