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Reform movement wants Presidents Conf. overhaul in wake of J Street rejection

JTA

May 1, 2014 | 12:18 pm

<em>Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, advocated for “audacious hospitality” in his keynote address at the Reform Biennial in San Diego on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of the URJ</em>

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, advocated for “audacious hospitality” in his keynote address at the Reform Biennial in San Diego on Dec. 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of the URJ

The Union for Reform Judaism is seeking an overhaul of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the wake of its rejection of J Street’s bid for membership.

The Reform group in a statement posted Thursday on its website said leaving the Presidents Conference, an umbrella body, is an option.

“As of yesterday, 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,” URJ President Rick Jacobs said in the statement.

“In the days ahead, Reform movement leaders will be consulting with our partners within the Conference of Presidents to decide what our next steps will be. We may choose to advocate for a significant overhaul of the Conference of Presidents’ processes. We may choose to simply leave the Conference of Presidents. But 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.”

The departure of the umbrella body for Reform movement congregations, which bills itself as the largest single Jewish organization in the United States with 900 congregations representing 1.5 million Jews, could undercut the Presidents Conference’s claim to speak for the community on foreign policy.

On Wednesday, Presidents Conference members voted 22-17 with three abstentions against admitting J Street, a Jewish group that calls itself “pro-peace and pro-Israel.” J Street has criticized Israeli government policies on peace and backed the Obama administration’s nuclear talks with Iran that many Jewish groups have opposed.

Separately, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said her group also would seek an overhaul.

“The Conference of Presidents has 50 or so organizations, each one has one vote, the majority of those organizations are quite tiny,” she told JTA. “The fact that J Street did not pass today’s vote is reflective of structural anomalies of the conference.”

A source close to the Presidents Conference said it was not clear from the secret ballot that J Street’s rejection was driven by the smaller groups, and that previous attempts to change the system failed in part because members could not agree on criteria that would determine the proportional weight of a member organization.

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