New Jewish Agenda to Seek Communal Status

The decision by the delegate assembly of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington to refuse Council membership to the New Jewish Agenda will not deter efforts by the Agenda to continue to seek application into Jewish community umbrella organizations throughout the country, according to Lee Levin, a national co-chairperson of the Agenda.

Levin said that as a national Jewish organization, the Agenda, which has 38 chapters across the country and a national membership of nearly 2500, should be acknowledged as a representative of the Jewish community and thus meets the specific criteria for representation in Jewish community umbrella groups. She said the onus should not be on the Agenda but on the part of the umbrella organizations.

While maintaining that the Agenda, formed in December, 1980, does continue to represent an alternative to the “established” Jewish community, Levin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that by submitting an application to membership in the JCC of Greater Washington, this would not hinder, but help facilitate the Agenda’s position and help create an outlet for its specific positions to be heard.

3 CHAPTERS HAVE REPRESENTATION

The local chapters of the Agenda in Detroit, Hartford and Ann Arbor sit on the local JCC, Levin declared about the JCC decision, “We think it is a disgrace …. We are a Jewish organization and deserve to be included in the umbrella organizations of our community.”

Levin said the New York Chapter of the Agenda is in the “process of exploring” membership in the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, an umbrella organization representing local New York agencies and New York units of national organizations.

In explaining the Agenda’s policy toward application in local JCCs, Levin said it is undertaken as a local option by the specific chapters of the Agenda which she said would have a better sense of the relationship maintained between the local Agenda and JCC. There appears to be no overall national initiative for the Agenda to apply to Jewish umbrella organizations. The actions by the three chapters which now sit on local JCC units occurred within the past year, Levin said.

WASHINGTON VOTE 98-70 AGAINST

The vote barring the Washington chapter of the Agenda into the JCC was taken June 2. The delegate assembly voted 98-70 against admission at a meeting that was attended by more than 400 persons. Although 173 delegates attended the meeting, only 168 cast a ballot, according to a report in The Jewish Week of Washington. The report said a total of some 600 Council delegates represent 215 member organizations.

The delegate assembly vote followed by three weeks the Council’s executive board’s 22-5 vote in favor of admission of the Agenda. While some charged that the executive vote indicated that the board was “out of touch with their constituency,” three former presidents of the Greater Washington JCC sharply criticized the vote by the delegate assembly.

Immediate past president of the Council Ben Silver was quoted as calling the outcome “unfortunate,” while his predecessor, Phyllis Frank, said “the community was the one that lost out by not having all viewpoints represented.” Aaron Goldman, who was president of the Council in 1953-56, was quoted as saying, “I hope that the Jewish Community Council will never make conformity a condition of membership,” in a letter of resignation to the Louis Brandeis District of the Zionist Organization of America, which the Jewish Week said led the campaign against admission of the Agenda.

Nathan Lewin, president of the JCC of Greater Washington, said the vote by the delegate assembly “does not indicate at all that the executive board had some fundamental differences with the full delegate assembly,” but that “an this particular question there were substantial and strong feelings that made themselves heard,” according to the Jewish Week. He reportedly voted at the delegate assembly meeting in favor of admission of the Agenda.

POSITION ON PLO

The delegate vote came after a heated discussion which primarily focussed on the Agenda’s Middle East platform, particularly its call for Israel to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization. According to the Agenda’s platform, peace has to be made through negotiations between all parties including the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians, including the PLO, on the basis of mutual recognition. It further supports the right of the Palestinians to chose to establish a state on the West Bank existing at peace with Israel.

“We strongly support a safe and secure Israel,” said Moe Rodenstein of the Washington Chapter of the Agenda. “We also believe that there must be a change in the Israeli government’s policies in order to achieve that security. I am dismayed that the JCC cannot stand internal dissent, but I was heartened by the many people who had the courage to speak out on our behalf. We will apply to the JCC next year.”

After a question and answer discussion between Rodenstein, and two other Agenda representatives on a variety of topics, including public dissent in the Jewish community and Soviet Jewry, 14 speakers lined up at the microphone to speak in support of the Agenda’s application while ten speakers spoke out in opposition.

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