Tent flap: JCPA apologizes for jibe at Presidents Conference

Memo from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: Sorry for suggesting that our tent is bigger than yours.

The JCPA was apologizing for a fundraising letter that mocked the Conference of Presidents for rejecting J Street.

“We deeply regret and sincerely apologize for the fundraising email that was sent last Sunday, May 11 by a senior JCPA professional,” JCPA’s president, Rabbi Steve Gutow, and chairwoman, Susan Turnbull, wrote in an email sent Wednesday to contributors. “That email criticized the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations. It was highly inappropriate.”

JCPA is the Jewish community’s public policy umbrella group. The Conference of Presidents is the community’s foreign policy umbrella body.

The email that sparked the tent flap, a May 11 fundraising pitch signed by JCPA’s vice president, Andi Milens, contrasted the Presidents Conference’s vote last month rejecting the membership bid of J Street, a dovish Israel policy group, with what Milens’ depicted as JCPA’s inclusiveness. JCPA favored J Street’s entry into the conference.

“I’m already tired of talking about the Conference of Presidents,” Milens began. “Ten days ago they voted not to extend membership to J Street. They have pitched their tent.”

Milens continued: “I’d rather talk about the tent I work in — the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It’s a really big tent, and the flap is always open. Our conversations and debates are robust.”

Turnbull and Gutow in their email said the criticism “was something that neither of us condone in the slightest. For decades, the Conference has played a very important role in American Jewish life. As JCPA leaders, we value our membership in our partner organization.”

Gutow and Turnbull called Milens’ email a “serious lapse in judgment” that was sent without their knowledge. In their apology, they pledged that “we have already taken steps to ensure that all future JCPA communications will reflect the views of the organization and not those of an individual staff member.”

Contacted by JTA, Gutow said that he wants “to make sure that nothing goes out that is against the grain of JCPA, which is about civility and not being critical of others in a public way.”

Here are the two emails, in sequence:

Dear XXXX,

I’m already tired of talking about the Conference of Presidents. Ten days ago they voted not to extend membership to J Street. They have pitched their tent.

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I’d rather talk about the tent I work in – the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It’s a really big tent, and the flap is always open. Our conversations and debates are robust.

Inside my tent are Jewish groups on the left and Jewish groups on the right. There are more religious Jews and less religious Jews. There are Jews who drink vodka and Jews who drink bourbon (ok, admittedly, that sometimes gets a little heated – I’ll tell you which side I fall on at the end). Here’s the thing, though. At the end of the day, the vodka drinkers and the bourbon drinkers always manage to make their way to the same bar and toast the work we have done together.

What have we done together? We have come to agreement that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state and that the two-state solution must be fought for. We have come to the agreement that we need to help the most vulnerable in our society – the hungry, the homeless, the immigrant. We have come to agreement that civil liberties are important and that we, the American Jewish community, are better protected when we fight for the rights of all those around us.

We don’t agree on everything, that would be impossible. But we open our tent flap wide and encourage everyone to advocate their views – and they do. Everyone comes to the JCPA’s tent understanding that we are stronger for our breadth. The areas where we find consensus unite us into a formidable advocacy force. And the areas where we disagree are acknowledged, respected, and we move on to the next thing.

One of the first prayers I remember learning as a child in Sunday School was “Ma Tovu – How goodly are your tents, O Jacob.” Well, my tent is really good. I encourage you to join me in supporting the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the great work we do – together.

Andi

P.S. As promised, my bias revealed!

And here is the apology email:

Dear XXXX

We deeply regret and sincerely apologize for the fundraising email that was sent last Sunday, May 11 by a senior JCPA professional. That email criticized the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations. It was highly inappropriate.

The email was sent without our knowledge. Its criticism of the Conference was something that neither of us condone in the slightest. For decades, the Conference has played a very important role in American Jewish life. As JCPA leaders, we value our membership in our partner organization.

Please be assured that we have already taken steps to ensure that all future JCPA communications will reflect the views of the organization and not those of an individual staff member. Again, on behalf of JCPA, we apologize for this serious lapse in judgment.

Sincerely,

Susan W. Turnbull, JCPA Chair

Rabbi Steve Gutow, President

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