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Behind the Headlines: Where Do American Jews Stand on …? Njcrac Delegates Will Decide Next Week

February 12, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

When the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council holds its annual plenum in Miami next week, delegates from around the country will attempt to forge a national Jewish consensus on a range of policy issues, in a process that has been called the most democratic in American Jewish organizational life.

Some 500 delegates to the plenum, which begins Sunday and ends Feb. 20, will discuss, debate, revise and eventually adopt a series of resolutions that address nearly every timely issue affecting Jews in this country today.

The NJCRAC process is called democratic because it offers all the constituent agencies, which span the spectrum of political positions from liberal to conservative, equal opportunity to add their voices to the debate over policy direction.

Preparation for the issues to be discussed at the plenum began months ago, when NJCRAC staffers prepared drafts of policy statements, called “propositions,” and circulated them to the 13 national Jewish agencies and 117 local community relations councils that belong to the umbrella group.

The constituent groups then returned the drafts to NJCRAC with written comments. Any recommendations that differ substantively from the NJCRAC draft propositions will then be submitted to the delegates at the plenum for debate.

After the plenum, the resolutions will be updated and presented to NJCRAC’s Joint Program Plan Committee in April, then revised once again and presented to a June meeting of NJCRAC’s executive committee for final approval.


The policy statements will then be bound in a booklet called the Joint Program Plan for Jewish Community Relations, which outlines the background, changing conditions and strategic goals for each issue.

The Joint Program Plan provides the foundation for the positions that Jewish organizations around the country adopt as policy. It serves as a yearly chronicle of the American Jewish agenda, mirroring changes in political priorities and popular culture.

In 1953, when the Program Plan was first published, it stated that “the free world must be mobilized effectively to counter the threat of Soviet conspiracy for world domination.”

The 1953 Program Plan urged a U.S. immigration policy free from racism and included statements on such topics as the labor movement, discrimination in educational institutions, and Jewish community relations involving a single mass-media outlet: motion pictures. Not until the next year was television even mentioned.

Prior to 1967, the concerns raised in the Program Plan were primarily domestic, aside from statements on the “unrelenting drive of communist totalitarianism for worldwide hegemony.”

An analysis of the atmosphere in 1954 might just as well have been written this year. It cited “persistent unemployment, a lagging industrial growth rate,” “a near deadlock on crucial legislative issues between the administration and Congress” and “recurring international crises” as factors leading to “a national mood of frustration and anxiety.”

Women’s rights were first considered in the early 1970s, and in 1972-73, concern for Soviet Jewry moved to the fore. That same year, the plight of Jews in the inner city was discussed.

Some issues have reappeared periodically over the past 38 years: unprosecuted Nazi war criminals, legislative attempts to regulate the kosher slaughter of meat, the conditions of Jews in Arab and other Moslem countries.


It was not until the Six-Day War that Israel and the Middle East became important issues to NJCRAC members. Since then, they have dominated the agenda.

In an organization with constituents as diverse as the Jewish Labor Committee and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, how do delegates reach consensus on such issues as the separation of church and state, women’s reproductive rights, and democracy and pluralism in Israel?

The answer is that they are not always able to do so.

It only takes a simple majority at the plenum to bring about a change in a NJCRAC draft proposition. But any constituent agency may later opt to dissent from any of the policy statements that ultimately make their way into the Joint Program Plan. The dissenting group’s comments are appended to the end of the discussion on each issue in the Program Plan.

But reaching consensus is always the preferred option. And sometimes the effort to arrive at positions acceptable to all results in the blunting of voices outside centrist areas of American Jewish opinion.

“The dovish and hawkish bodies cancel each other out on the policy level,” Al Vorspan, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, wrote in an article in the May-June 1988 issue of Tikkun magazine. “Thus, the bland lead the bland.”

Lawrence Rubin, executive vice chair of NJCRAC, put it somewhat differently.

“NJCRAC seeks to establish a consensus not so narrow as to be exclusionary, and not so broad as to be ineffective.” he said. “NJCRAC ultimately arrives at a vigorous middle position. That’s the nature of a democratic process.”


Constituent organizations have proposed two new sections for the new Joint Program Plan: the environment and international human rights. The proposed categories were referred to NJCRAC subcommittees for further consideration.

And NJCRAC will be revisiting the issues of arms control and energy policy, which, Rubin said, “hasn’t been treated with the seriousness it deserves.”

While many of NJCRAC’s efforts focus on domestic policy concerns such of these, this year, because of the war in the Persian Gulf, discussion of the situation in the Middle East “will shape a good part of the plenum,” Rubin said.

“A draft statement presented at the plenary will talk about a number of concerns Israel will be facing subsequent to the end of the hostilities, including peace discussions, negotiations, Israel’s relationship with her neighbors and identifying Palestinian leadership who is willing to come forward,” he said.

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