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Conference of Presidents to J Street: Drop Dead

malcolm hoenlein

Bibi Netanyahu whispering sweet-nothings in Malcolm Hoenlein’s ear

J Street applied for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.  Today, its application was resoundingly rejected in a vote in which only 17 of 50 voted to accept the group.  22 voted “No” and there were 3 abstentions.  J Street need 34 yes votes and didn’t even come close despite an intense push.  In the past week several centrist groups announced their support for the group and none announced their opposition.  However, the Conference has been run for decades by Malcolm Hoenlein, who earned his stripes in the Soviet Jewry campaigns of the 60s and retains a hawkish Cold War mentality.  Undoubtedly, Hoenlein didn’t want J Street, and worked hard behind the scenes against its acceptance.

The Conference is a roundtable group that represents most of the members of the Israel Lobby, though it deals with a slightly broader range of issues relevant to American Jewry.  It takes a party-line position supporting Israel and acts as the choir for the Netanyahu hawkish approach to Iran.  When the Obama administration wants to sound out American Jewish leaders on questions regarding Israel, it often turns to the Conference as its interlocutor.

But in truth, the Conference represents the increasingly irrelevant dying gasp of the organized mainstream Jewish community.  When the Pew Center polled American Jews about their changing beliefs and found interest in old-line issues like Israel, anti-Semitism and assimilation waning–it was the groups within the Conference who were especially taking the hit.  Their membership and fundraising is declining.  As Israel wanders farther from international consensus concerning the Occupation and creating a Palestinian state, the protestations of the Conference in its favor increasingly fall on deaf ears.

I find the news of J Street’s rejection to be interesting in a clinical sort of way.  As a study in what’s wrong with the American Jewish community.  I’ve already discussed some of the issues involving the Conference.  But J Street’s role is also instructive.  It views itself as the liberal standard-bearer for American Jews, a 21st century version of the American Jewish Congress as it was in the 1950s and 60s.  So it made perfect sense for J Street to step up to the plate and take its rightful national leadership role.  Though I haven’t studied the numbers, clearly J Street represents a growing membership and fundraising base.  It speaks to a ruling liberal Democratic administration and on behalf of the 70% of Jews who supported it.  It had every right to expect admission.

The fact that the Conference thought otherwise instructs us on what I call the closing of the American Jewish mind.  While American Jews remains largely liberal, their communal organizations have turned increasingly conservative.  That’s why the Conference feels it can afford to slap J Street in the face with this rejection.  In reality, the loss speaks volumes about the increasing irrelevance of the self-appointed ruling elite of American Jewry.  It goes without saying that they’re unelected.  These are white men who’ve climbed the corporate ladder to success.  They have the leisure, motivation and ego to pursue these sinecure positions.  But they don’t speak for anyone but the Jewish 1%.  Anyone who believes that when they speak to the Conference they speak to a representative body is deluding him or herself.

That’s why this statement from the Conference was so laughable:

“The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last fifty years,” it said.

The Conference represents the ‘consensus’ of the 1%, not of the broad body of American Jewry.

Returning to J Street.  I’ve believed for years that the group is based on a false premise.  It purported to be a pro-peace organization that would be critical of Israeli policy and act as an alternative to Aipac.  It’s never been that.  It is only critical of Israeli policy when the Obama administration is (which is almost never).  That’s why this barrel of lies from Mort Klein (who’s right even less times a day than a broken clock) is so preposterous:

Morton Klein, president of the ZOA, [criticized ]…“some of their horrific, anti-Israel actions,” including endorsing the Goldstone Report, opposing Iran sanctions, and calling on the US administration to endorse a UN resolution that condemned Israel, which the US ultimately vetoed.

In fact, J Street opposed Goldstone, supported Iran sanctions and has never opposed any administration position regarding Israel at the UN.  In fact, J Street is, as I’ve often written, Jews for Obama.  It’s the cheerleading section for the Democratic Party with an emphasis on its Mideast policy.  It’s a little to the left of Aipac and most of the Lobby, but not by much.  That’s why Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer were absolutely correct (and I disagreed with them at the time) in including J Street as a member of the Lobby.  Of course they are.

That’s why it’s absolutely ludicrous for the Conference to reject J Street.  It’s like a human body rejecting its left hand.  It makes no sense.

But if you look at this process in terms of the increasing dysfunction and irrelevance I outlined above, it starts to make more sense.  J Street pretends to be something it’s not.  The Conference is itself based on a false premise.  The whole thing is a sham.  But what scares Jews who object to all this mishugas is–what is the alternative?  Who will speak for us if not these fat-cat Jewish mandarins.  It is another mark of our failure as a community that we haven’t had the foresight, leadership or courage to devise a Plan B for American Jewry.

UPDATE:

The Forward reports that Reform Judaism leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs is pretty ticked off at this development. You’ll note that this statement pretty much reflects what I’ve written above (though in a slightly more judicious articulation):

“This much is certain: We will no longer acquiesce to simply maintaining the facade that the Conference of Presidents represents or reflects the views of all of American Jewry,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs accused the Presidents Conference of being beholden to a large number of small right wing groups that do not adequately represent the diversity of the American Jewish community.

He said that many of the largest and most reputable organizations, including all member organizations from the Reform and Conservative movement, supported the bid.

“It is clear that the Conference of Presidents, as currently constituted and governed, no longer serves its vital purpose of providing a collective voice for the entire American Jewish pro-Israel community,” he said, calling the procedures of the conference into question.

To which I have two replies: what took you so long? And “better late than never.”

NOTE: I’m delighted that The Nation has republished, Israel-Palestine: Kerry’s Peace Talks Hit the Separation Wall, which I wrote for Foreign Policy in Focus, on the death of the U.S. brokered Israel-Palestine peace talks.  My last piece published at The Nation was in 2008 (not for lack of trying!).

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Oui May 2, 2014, 10:38 PM

    Will the western media tell the truth? Will the EU nations hold firm on their policy to differentiate goods from OPT?

    An eye-catcher by Larry Derfner @972+
    U.S. post-mortem on peace talks: Israel killed them

    Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea, Israel’s No. 1 print journalist, has a long interview on Friday with unnamed U.S. officials involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, giving their view of why they failed. The interview (not published online) is quite a bombshell, as well as a historic document.

    h/t kafkanade, a reader @BooMan

  • dcdoc1 May 5, 2014, 1:30 PM

    You say, “Malcolm Hoenlein, who earned his stripes in the Soviet Jewry campaigns of the 60s and retains a hawkish Cold War mentality.” Anything other than honorable to have earned one’s “stripes in the Soviet Jewry campaigns of the 60s”? What is the strongest evidence you can point to in support of the claim that Hoenlein “retains a hawkish Cold War mentality”?

    And, “Undoubtedly, Hoenlein didn’t want J Street, and worked hard behind the scenes against its acceptance.” If it is “undoubtedly” so, then there must be strong evidence to support your claim. What is it?

    Then, “this barrel of lies from Mort Klein (who’s right even less times a day than a broken clock) is so preposterous:
    Morton Klein, president of the ZOA, [criticized ]…“some of their horrific, anti-Israel actions,” including (1) endorsing the Goldstone Report, (2) opposing Iran sanctions, and (3) calling on the US administration to endorse a UN resolution that condemned Israel, which the US ultimately vetoed…In fact, J Street opposed Goldstone, supported Iran sanctions and has never opposed any administration position regarding Israel at the UN.”

    Really? Mort Klein is, according to Richard Silverstein, a “liar” because notwithstanding news accounts at the time, JStreet did not call upon the US not to exercise it’s veto power in the Security Council to defeat an anti-Israel vote? http://www.jpost.com/International/Speaker-chastises-J-Street-for-opposing-US-veto-at-UN

    Really? Mort Klein is, according to Richard Silverstein, a “liar” because JStreet never lent any credibility to the Goldstone Report before the larger Jewish community loudly condemned the report and the support JStreet had given it and its author? http://www.jta.org/2009/11/01/news-opinion/politics/j-street-peace-now-want-changes-to-resolution-slamming-goldstone-report

    Really, Mort Klein is, according to Richard Silverstein, a “liar” because JStreet has never opposed sanctions against Iran in an effort to keep it from getting a nuclear bomb. http://jstreet.org/blog/post/j-street-strongly-opposes-introduction-of-senate-iran-sanctions-bill_1

    • Richard Silverstein May 6, 2014, 12:18 AM

      @ dcdoc1:

      What is the strongest evidence you can point to in support of the claim that Hoenlein “retains a hawkish Cold War mentality”?

      One of the best Jewish journalists in America, writing in a Jewish neo-con publication, the Tablet:

      Nearly everyone who has worked with Hoenlein—fans and detractors alike—unhesitatingly described his politics to me as “conservative” or “right-wing”…and no one I spoke with thought it likely that Hoenlein was among the 78 percent of American Jews who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

      …“I am quite sure Malcolm is a…pro-settlement right-winger,” said Jonathan Jacoby, a former official with the progressive Israel Policy Forum.

      From a Haaretz profile:

      Widely thought to embrace right-wing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

      You wrote:

      If it is “undoubtedly” so, then there must be strong evidence to support your claim. What is it?

      Hmmm, let me see. The leaders of the most powerful Jewish organizations in America expressed their support for J Street joining the Conference and yet it lost. That’s pretty damn good evidence. As every profile of Hoenlein ever written notes, he’s extremely careful about his exercise of power. He operates behind the scenes and doesn’t leave fingerprints. Or as Allison Hoffman said it even better:

      …It is also due to the personal style of Hoenlein, who understands the value of flying under the radar. Several times in the course of a series of interviews we conducted over more than two months, he paused to tell me that his reputation for keeping quiet about sensitive, backchannel negotiations…helped him cement his access. Yet what to him seems like appropriate circumspection contributes to the widespread suspicion, particularly on the left, that he uses his position to pursue his own private agenda when it comes to Israel…

      You wrote:

      JStreet did not call upon the US not to exercise it’s veto power in the Security Council to defeat an anti-Israel vote?

      That double-negative makes it almost impossible to understand what you really mean. But I take issue with Mort Klein & your characterization of the anti-settlement resolution as “anti-Israel.” In fact, the resolution reflected not just Obama administration policy, but the policy of U.S. administrations going all the way back to Lyndon Johnson. We oppose settlements. Always have and hopefully always will. The U.S. ultimately vetoed the resolution out of allegiance to Bibi Netanyahu, who it was desperately attempting to persuade not to attack Iran. The U.S. veto was a quid pro quo. We voted against out own declared policy, which made Obama look like a fool.

      But one thing I will admit is that I was wrong in claiming J St. had never opposed any administration vote about Israel in the UN. In this one instance (and to its credit), it did. But Mort Klein didn’t specify which resolution he was talking about in his attack and J Street has supported at least a dozen other administration UN votes regarding Israel.

      You wrote:

      JStreet never lent any credibility to the Goldstone Report before the larger Jewish community loudly condemned the report and the support JStreet had given it and its author?

      Mazal tov, now you’ve joined Mort Klein in playing pro-Israel Liar’s Poker. You’ve slying mischaracterized what I wrote and conveniently ignored the lies that Klein peddled concering J Street’s position on Goldstone. J Street NEVER supported the Goldstone report. The JTA story you’ve linked to only says that J Street and Peace Now asked for changes in a resolution denouncing the Report. Asking for changes in a resolution doesn’t mean you support the target of the resolution. And J Street never supported the Report and I dare you to find any specific statement by the group that it did.

      You wrote:

      JStreet has never opposed sanctions against Iran

      You may think you’re a crafty fellow but not crafty enough. J Street has supported every round of anti-Iran sanctions proposed by the administration. It did oppose one round of sanctions opposed by the administration (and almost every pragmatic analyst writing about the Iran nuclear conflict). As I’ve written, J Street is Jews for Obama. It supports what Obama supports and opposes what he opposes regarding Israel. When Obama propsoed and passed sanctions against Iran (as he did several times) J Street supported it.

      You and Mort Klein conveniently cherry-pick your facts while ignoring all the countervailing facts that weaken your argument. A classic hasbara tactic.

      Since you’ve commented here before (I can’t even remember whether I ever banned you or not), I warn you that I will not get into a pissing contest with you and entertain endless series of claims and counter-claims in the thread (as I recall you did the last time you were here). You’re done in this thread. You may comment in other threads if you choose. But do not participate further in this thread.

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