Presidents’ Conference ‘a Rickety Contraption’

The rejection of J Street’s application for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is curious (“Not So Fast,” “What is the Presidents’ Conference?” May 9). Nevermind what some may consider J Street’s controversial Mideast positions or its separately incorporated political action committee, the rejection speaks worlds about the Presidents’ Conference itself.

Curiously, the vote was by secret paper ballot. But voting at the Presidents’ Conference isn’t the same as individual citizens voting for school board members. The concept of “one man, one vote” doesn’t apply here. Rather, the Presidents’ Conference is more akin to a parliamentary body. Votes are cast by representatives of the Presidents’ Conference’s constituent member organizations. In this context the voters are answerable to the membership of their own organizations for the votes they cast on their behalf at the Conference. Why do so many of these representatives not want their memberships to know how they voted in their names?

Commendably, some organizations such as Ameinu and the ZOA were quite public about their voting intentions. But why won’t all of the 22 organizations opposing the J Street application state their opposition publicly? It is in this context that one appreciates the principled contemplation by the Union for Reform Judaism to reconsider its Presidents’ Conference membership.

J Street’s views and outlook may be controversial and distasteful to some. It is also clear that J Street represents a large stratum of American Jewish opinion. URJ’s potential withdrawal from the Presidents’ Conference belies the Conference’s claim to represent organized American Jewry.

The Presidents’ Conference was always a rickety Rube Goldberg contraption, co-founded by a most unlikely pair of statesmen: John Foster Dulles and Nahum Goldmann. Are its pieces now falling apart?

Elihud Davison
Morristown, N.J.

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