Presidents Conference rejects J Street’s membership bid

Jeremy Ben-Ami is J Street's president."  (Courtesy J Street)

Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s president, said his group had “no plans at this time” to reapply for membership to the Presidents Conference. (Courtesy J Street)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — J Street failed to gain admission to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The vote of Presidents Conference members Wednesday was 17 in favor, 22 against and three abstentions, according to four sources.

“This is a sad day for us, but also for the American Jewish community and for a venerable institution that has chosen to bar the door to the communal tent to an organization that represents a substantial segment of Jewish opinion on Israel,” J Street said in a statement.

J Street needed a two-thirds majority of the entire Presidents Conference, or 34 of the 51 member groups, to join the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella.

A number of leading Jewish groups had come out in favor of the dovish Middle East policy group’s entry, including the Anti-Defamation League, arms of the Reform and Conservative movements, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community’s domestic policy umbrella. They argued that the Presidents Conference needed to include what they say is the Jewish community’s diverse opinions on Israel.

The Presidents Conference said in a statement issued after the vote that its current membership reflected the community’s diversity.

“The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last fifty years,” it said.

J Street is a strong critic of the current Israeli government’s policies and backs the Obama administration’s approach toward Iran opposed by many pro-Israel groups.

Opponents of the membership bid said J Street too often opposes other Jewish groups in the broader public arena and not just within the community.

In its statement announcing the rejection of J Street, but not breaking down the vote, the Presidents Conference noted that other groups have failed to gain admission on the first try.

“A two-thirds affirmative vote of the member organizations is a significant threshold,” the statement said. “Some present member organizations did not initially achieve the necessary support but subsequently re-applied and are now members.”

In an interview with JTA, J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said the organization had “no plans at this time” to reapply.

“I think it’s a really sad day,” he said. “We wanted to be in this tent, we belong in this tent, we’d be an important asset to this tent.”

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