Our U.S. Jewish population ranges from 4.2 to 6.6 million. More exact numbers are dependent on how you choose to use the Pew Research Center’s interactive Jew-counting tool and whether you also want to count Republicans, Donald Sterling, Bernie Madoff, and Christians United For Israel members.
So it is actuarially refreshing to know that the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has exactly 51 (per Wikipedia), 52 (per the Presidents’ Conference website), or 50 (per my actual count of organizations listed on the website) U.S.- based Jewish organizations working to serve the Jewish people in their support of their fellow Jews and Israel.
We almost had one more, but J Street, the self-described “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans fighting for the future of Israel as the democratic homeland for the Jewish people,” was rejected.
The members voted 17 to 22 — the other members must have been busy watching Naked and Afraid reruns in another room — against the fastest growing Jewish organization in America, now with thousands of newly engaged, newly rejected youth in over 50 chapters on college campuses throughout the U.S..(“Over 50″ and “throughout the U.S.” are my actuarially safe words.)
The “consensus” of the Presidents’ Conference membership was already adequately represented according to a statement the Presidents’ Conference issued after the vote: “The present membership…includes organizations which represent and articulate the views…of the American Jewish community and (we)… will continue to present the consensus of the community as (we have) for the last fifty years.”
Good news: Who knew we Jews had a consensus view on literally every important issue? More good news: Naked and Afraid’s new season option was just picked up. Even more good news: J Street is eligible to keep applying so it can keep getting rejected by the Presidents” Conference’s numerically larger intolerant and regressive wings.
Bad news (for the Presidents’ Conference): J Street doesn’t need the Presidents’ Conference to open its tent as much as the Presidents’ Conference needs a new tent and a revised mission.
Even more bad news (for the Presidents’ Conference): The already questionable relevancy of the Presidents’ Conference became clearer. Reform movement leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs said it best: “This much is certain. We will no longer acquiesce to simply maintain the façade that the Conference of Presidents represents or reflects the views of all of American Jewry.” (He must have missed The Presidents’ Conference’s “consensus” talking points.) Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement, was equally chagrined: “(J Street) won the popular vote (and the Presidents’ Conference must deal with) “closing the gap between the popular vote and the organizational vote.”
Even worse news (for the Presidents’ Conference): J Street’s next application is more likely to go to a breakaway group, possibly led by the Reform movement. Jacobs made it clear that the next step for the Conference is either “an overhaul” or, failing that, “dropping membership.”
The Presidents’ Conference’s major and not-so-major member organizations have quite a range in their activities. One is responsible for planting over 240 million trees. ( I’ve booked them at my house next Thursday.) Another is chiefly responsible for underage drinking and fraternal hazing. Another investigates slanted media reporting on Israel — the main media miscreant is, of course, The New York Times. (Which probably explains why newspaper keeps arriving wet, mangled or missing a section.) One organization ceased operations (it’s “reorganizing”), but it is still happy to collect donations on behalf of something they’ll gladly connect to Israel or anti-Semitism or water rights or — heck, just send them money and dispense with the investigatory nonsense.
Then there’s the organization that had to practice organizational dexterity: It was originally formed to focus on getting Jews out of the Soviet Union. It won, but refused to declare victory. Why cease operations if you can still collect donations? Just change your focus: Help the Jews who stayed. The ones who made it out are so 1970’s. This is 2014. Reinvent.
Another organization’s name more clearly suggests its mission: to act as an American friend of Israel’s Likud party. It’s good to have organizational friends who are willing to declare that friendship in their names. (I’m easier. You don’t have to publicly declare your friendship. Just give me a few good stock tips, buy me lunch, and it’s all good.) But despite the declaratory name, the organization’s website highlights, to the right of its picture of Benjamin Netanyahu (a strategically political positioning?) that its name does not accurately reflect its mission. That mission is one devoted to supporting right-leaning Israeli politics and taking and sponsoring trips to Israel and meeting with Israeli leaders. Next up a fundraising campaign for settlements? Or a Likud “avoid criticism” fund that Netanyahu can tap the next time he wants to get his favorite $127,000 “resting chamber” on his next five hour El Al flight or fund his $2,500 ice cream sweet tooth?
There may be a slight Orthodox overweighting in the Presidents’ Conference membership, but all the major wings of Judaism seem to be reflected, except atheist, agnostic and no-longer-interested. And then there’s ADL, AJC and AIPAC, the three Jewish organizational heavyweights. ADL, to its credit, voted to let J Street join. AJC and AIPAC, unfortunately, opted not to disclose their likely turf-protecting votes.
What’s the mission of the Presidents’ Conference? What are the goals? Where have you and the other 4.2 to 6.6 million Jews been? The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations — or TCOPOMJO as we in the newly informed know it as — represents the consensus Jewish view. Not the various Jewish views — the consensus Jewish view. At least that was the reason for TCOPPMJO’s creation.
Back in the day — not my day, but a day three generations ago — President Eisenhower’s administration requested that the Jewish community get together under one “umbrella” in order to make our views more easily known. To him. To political leaders. To foreign leaders. To the media. To the deli guy at Carnegie Deli who refused to make my father a grilled cheese sandwich with only two slices of cheddar, and no tomatoes, onions or mustard. (The organizational formation happened. The sandwich and attempted credit card payment never did.)
In response to Eisenhower’s request, many of the major organizations at that time united in a sort of Jewish U.N.. Our Jewish U.N. of TCOPOMJO was even better because it actually worked to legitimize Israel. Plus, the Palestinians never demanded to join any of our committees. And now, six decades later, with TCOPOMJO’s vote to exclude J Street, an organization committed to Israel’s survival as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, but not committed enough, evidently, to preserving the stasis, TCOPOMJO can proudly proclaim it has become even less relevant than our real U.N.
At least the U.N. recognizes all of its qualified members.