Menu JTA Search

Bbw Votes to Retain Separate Status, Despite a Warning from B’nai B’rith

The family feud between the world’s largest Jewish organization and its women’s affiliate entered its second phase this week, with B’nai B’rith Women voting to reaffirm its separate legal status.

It is now up to B’nai B’rith International to decide whether it will live up to its Dec. 3 ultimatum that such a decision would end the 92-year-old relationship between the two historically affiliated national Jewish organizations.

“The ball is in their court,” BBW President Hyla Lipsky said in a statement issued Monday. “Our board has stood firm in showing that it will not change the governing structure of our organization, just because B’nai B’rith International has changed its mind about how it wants to operate.”

BBI’s president, Seymour Reich, issued a statement in response, saying, “The goal of the B’nai B’rith Women’s leadership is clear: They want B’nai B’rith Women to become a separate and autonomous organization, while making it appear that it has been expelled from B’nai B’rith. That is not the case.”

Longstanding tensions between the two groups over their relationship worsened on Dec. 3, when BBI adopted a resolution giving the women’s group 14 days to rescind an October 1988 resolution that declared BBW a “separate, independent, autonomous organization.”

According to Reich, it was a constitutional issue. “The women’s leadership ultimately decided that they did not wish to follow the general precepts of B’nai B’rith,” he said in a Dec. 7 statement on the issue.

A HOSTILE TAKEOVER?

Reich specifically was referring to Section 15 of the B’nai B’rith constitution, which states that BBW’s “laws, rules, regulations and policies” are “subject to the approval of B’nai B’rith International or its board of governors.”

“We all live in a society of laws,” he continued. “If those laws are bad , out-of-date or ill conceived, we change them; we don’t simply state that they do not apply to us.”

But according to Elaine Binder, executive director of BBW, it is more than just a constitutional matter. “We feel that we cannot maintain a relationship under the gun of an outmoded element of the constitution. There’s always room for constitutional change,” she said in an interview.

Binder feels that BBI, under the guise of a constitutional formality, is precipitating a hostile takeover of the 120,000-member women’s group in an effort to bolster its flagging membership and revenues.

“There is no question that they have precipitated this,” said Binder. “They are trying to create a situation in which they could get a good shot at our members. They have already written to our members.”

BBI, on the other hand, sees the situation more as a matter of inflated egos and unrepresentative leadership. “No weighty issues are involved, political or otherwise,” Reich said in the statement he issued Monday.

“Instead, we have a small group of individuals — the B’nai B’rith Women’s executive board — engaged in an effort to form their own organization apart from B’nai B’rith.”

“We believe that the women’s leadership’s decision to leave B’nai B’rith does not reflect the views of the grass-roots membership of B’nai B’rith Women,” he said.

LEGAL ACTION POSSIBLE

As the stalemate between the two groups continues, it remains unclear whether or not BBW can continue to hold the B’nai B’rith name as an independent women’s organization.

“Absolutely,” answered Lipsky, when asked that question in an interview Tuesday. “That’s our name, and we have a right to that name.

“We want to retain an affiliation with BBI, and we believe that people of good will should always be willing to negotiate,” she said. “But we will do everything to protect our integrity and our name.”

Does that mean a possible court battle? “It doesn’t necessarily mean court,” said Binder of BBW, “but it might.”

“We understand that such a separation could hurt both organizations,” said Lipsky, reaffirming her desire to negotiate a settlement. “But do I feel that BBW is strong enough to go it alone? The answer is yes.”

BBI seems to agree. Although it refused to commit to the possibility of a court battle, Reich’s concluding statement suggested that separation was imminent:

“We regret the course chosen by the B’nai B’rith Women leadership. We wish them well in their new organization,” he said.

NEXT STORY