This afternoon, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations will vote on whether to admit J Street as a member of the 51 member conference. J Street’s hostile policy stances regarding Israel continue to generate controversy across the political spectrum. As such, a decision to extend membership to J street would likely create a severe backlash within the Jewish community against members voting in the affirmative.
Membership in the Conference is prestigious. The organization was formed in direct response to a request from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As envisioned by the Eisenhower Administration, this Conference provides the executive branch of the U.S. government insight into the opinions of the American Jewish community on a spectrum of issues.
In the words of the Conference:
Every day, the Conference of Presidents Fund works publicly and behind the scenes addressing vital concerns with US and world leaders, key opinion molders and the public about Israel’s security and vitality, threats posed by a nuclear Iran, global terrorism, anti-Semitism and the delegitimization campaign, making a critical difference at home and abroad.
For decades, the Conference has worked to “build support at the United Nations and end the anti-Israel bias.” Presently, these leaders are actively using their influence to ensure an end to Iran’s nuclear program.
Staking out defined policy stances remains an important role of the Conference. For instance, in 2012, the Conference of Presidents leaders, Richard Stone and Malcolm Hoenlein condemned the UN General Assembly Resolution granting the Palestinian Authority non-observer status as “unfortunate and counterproductive.” Late last year, the Conference vocally opposed ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
As the Palestinian Authority forges ahead with its plans to form a unity government with Hamas, the continued ability of the Conference to speak with moral clarity on unfolding events remains invaluable.
Consider the events from this past week.
In a speech to the Trilateral Commission, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that absent a two-state solution, Israel “winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens–or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Suggesting that Israel–a nation that grants equal civil rights to all citizens regardless of ethnicity, race, or national origin–risks becoming akin to the racist apartheid regime in South Africa is preposterous and slanderous.
As President Obama said in 2008, “Injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.”
In light of Secretary Kerry’s despicable remarks, multiple members of the Conference strongly rebuked Kerry. The Anti-Defamation League declared that Kerry’s use of the “repugnant language of Israel’s adversaries and accusers to express concern for Israel’s future” was “undiplomatic, unwise and unfair.” And the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) warned that the “suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate.”
J Street’s response starkly contrasts with these other stalwart Conference members. Rather than defend truth and Israel’s reputation from these offensive remarks, J Street mounted a vigorous defense of Secretary Kerry. According to J Street, “instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the Secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road.”
This radical response by J Street should not be surprising . After all, the organization openly states the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria “ought to offend all who believe in the basic principles of democratic equality.” Further, J Street has declared the Israeli presence in the historic Jewish homeland as “brutal and corrosive” to “the Palestinians who live under them and to the Israelis that enforce them.”
J Street presents an altered view of reality to the public. In fact, under the first two decades of Israel’s so-called “occupation” of Judea and Samaria, Palestinians enjoyed an explosive increase in their standard of living. Infant mortality fell, life expectancy rose, illiteracy dropped, health care access increased, and economic output expanded.
J Street’s hostility to Israel since the since the organization’s founding in 2009 is well-documented. In the past, the organization has supported engagement with Hamas, refused to condemn the Goldstone Report, supported a U.N. resolution labelling “settlements” as “dangerous and illegal”, and opposed strong sanctions on Iran.
These and other radical stances resulted in three Democratic senators, one Republican senator, and seven congresspersons from both parties requesting removal of their names from the 2009 J Street host committee.
Despite all of this, J Street continues to influence the opinions of the general public and affect the policy stances of certain politicians by maintaining its veneer of credibility.
Membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations would enhance the capability of this decidedly non-mainstream entity to reshape public perception of Israel in a manner inconsistent with the truth. Although Conference members hold diverse viewpoints on numerous issues, they all are committed to countering delegitimization of Israel, ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and encouraging the U.S. to maintain its strong voice in defense of Israel in the U.N. Extending Conference membership to J Street would impede these noble goals.