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Jewish Leaders Conference Rejects Lobbying Group J Street

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Thursday, 01 May 2014 11:03 AM

A pro-peace Jewish lobbying group that has criticized the Israeli government will not be admitted membership into an influential national coalition, its leaders said Wednesday.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to block lobbying group J Street, even though J Street said its differences with Israel's policy over Gaza and Iran, among other matters, are common in Israel and among American Jews, reports The New York Times.

The closed vote was held at the Conference's Manhattan offices on Wednesday, and participants said 42 of the group's 50 members were present, with 17 voting for J Street, 22 against, and three abstaining. J Street would have had to gotten 34 votes, or two-thirds of the conference, in order to become members.

The voting appeared to have been broken down along ideological lines, said those at the meeting, with Orthodox members opposing J Street and non-Orthodox supporting the group.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told the Times after the vote that his group "would have liked to be a party of this communal tent."

The Washington-based lobbying group, organized six years ago, supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a blog opposing the Conference decision, J Street described itself as being a group that supports Israel and "the notion that support for Israel does not equate to support for all of the policies of its government, and the idea that open debate and discussion around Israel is healthy for the American Jewish community."

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Ben-Ami said Wednesday's vote sent a "terrible message" to people who have concerns about Israeli policy.

"This is what has been wrong with the conversation in the Jewish community,” said Ben-Ami. "People whose views don't fit with those running longtime organizations are not welcome, and this is sad proof of that. It sends the worst possible signal to young Jews who want to be connected to the Jewish community, but also want to have freedom of thought and expression."

J Street now has the third-largest gathering of American Jewish organization with chapters in 40 cities and states, and more than 800 rabbis have joined its Rabbinic Cabinet, Wednesday's blog entry said.

Meanwhile, Conference of Presidents leader Malcolm Hoenlein is often consulted by political leaders as a representative of the American Jewish community.

J Street's critics applauded the organization's decision to exclude the lobbyists, saying the group's views on Israel are not how mainstream members of the Jewish community think.

"On virtually every single issue, their position is contrary to that of anything that would be considered pro-Israel, and they don't represent the rank and file of the Jewish community in America," said Farley I. Weiss, the president of the National Council of Young Israel, an association of Orthodox synagogues.

But many liberal and centrist Jewish groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, said J Street represents the views of many American Jews and deserved to be part of the organization.

"A mistake was made today," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents conservative rabbis. "It is of crucial importance to the future of the Jewish community that a full range of views is represented, and that we be part of a robust dialogue to achieve what we are all committed to, which is a safe, secure and thriving Israel."

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