Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

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Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO - also called Presidents Conference) was founded by Nahum Goldmann in 1954 as the coordinating body for 52 national Jewish organizations to lobby the executive branch on behalf of Israel.

According to the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman, the Conference of Presidents is ‘Likud-run'[1]. In other words, as other writers note, it leans 'decisively to the right on critical issues involving Israel'[2].[3]

The power wielded by the organization's chairman is hinted at in a statement by ADL national director Abraham Foxman:'This position is lovingly called 'the King of the Jews,' he told the New Yorker.[4]

History

According to Allison Hoffman:

The Conference itself has its roots not in partisanship but on the presumption that the capacity to speak with a single voice on Israel would greatly benefit the American Jewish community—mainly by saving busy politicians in Washington the bother of talking to dozens of individual groups. It was established in 1954 in response to a request from John Foster Dulles, President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of State, that Jewish leaders figure out among themselves what they wanted him to hear about Israel rather than coming to him one at a time.

She continues:

The founding executive of the Conference was Yehuda Hellman, a Lithuanian-born Labor Zionist who came to New York to cover the United Nations for Jewish papers in Mandatory Palestine. For 30 years, he took a back seat to the chairs of the Conference—he literally sat in the second row with other staff at official meetings with the White House. In May 1986, he died unexpectedly, at 65, after suffering a heart attack in the middle of a speech...[5]

Kenneth Bialkin, then Conference chair, appointed Malcolm Hoenlein as a replacement Executive Chair in June 1986, 'partly on the advice of his friend George Klein, a New York investor and prominent Republican donor'.[6] Hoenlein has held the position ever since.

Activities

The organisation's website lists the following goals:

  • Strengthen and foster the special U.S.-Israel relationship.
  • Ensure that Israel's interests are heard and understood by policy makers, opinion molders and the American public.
  • Address critical foreign policy issues that impact the American Jewish community.
  • Represent the interests of organized American Jewry.
  • Protect and enhance the security and dignity of Jews around the world.[7]

On the United Nations, the Conference states that it:

  • Counters Arab countries’ efforts in United Nations bodies and in the international arena to discredit, isolate and delegitimize Israel, and to place the onus on Israel for the violence of Islamist extremists.
  • Advocates against adoption of special resolutions, procedures, and agenda items that condemn Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, holding Israel to a different standard than all other countries.
  • Supports efforts at the U.N. to address and counter anti-Semitism. works to expand role of Israel in United Nations in New York and Geneva, and in the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) at the U.N.
  • Supports attempts to have the U.N. adopt a zero tolerance policy on terrorism.
  • Encourages the campaign for U.N. reform[8]

Projects

Israel Campus Beat

In 2003 the Conference of Presidents partnered with the Israel on Campus Coalition to create the Israel Campus Beat, which monitors and publishes news about campus activities around Israel in North American colleges and universities. It says it aims ' to provide updated news and information for pro-Israel students, professionals who support them on campus and stakeholders across the broader community.' [9]Its editor-in-chief is former Jerusalem Post editor Carl Shrag and articles are written by freelance student reporter interns.[10]

America's Voices in Israel

CoPMAJO's project America's Voices in Israel[11] is designed ‘to bolster Israel’s image in the United States’ by organising visits to Israel for American celebrities including, ‘high profile sports personalities and entertainers’ in order to ‘provide an antidote to the distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state that are increasingly promulgated by those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel.’

Participants are given guided tours and meet 'academic and military experts, policy makers and other influential Israelis'. The project employs social and traditional media outlets to report on their trips and according to the project’s website ‘Without exception, those who have traveled with America’s Voices use their respective platforms to speak about their experiences in Israel and have become lasting friends and advocates.’[12] Twilight actor Kellan Lutz, visiting for the second time, reportedly commented that people are "not really informed" about Israel.[13]

The project began in 2001 but was reorganised in late 2010 when Chairman George Rohr appointed Irwin Katsof director[14]. Katsof has also been involved in Aish HaTorah trips and helped to found Honest Reporting[15]. At least one America's Voices trips appears to have included a visit to vineyards in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights[16] while another group were 'briefed by historian Daniel Pipes'.[17]

Other initiatives include:

Events

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  • On 24 March 2009 British MP Denis MacShane, a leading advocate of the notion that critics of Zionism are anti-Semitic, met with the Conference of Presidents ‘to discuss the sharp rise in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incidents’
  • On 25 March the Conference hosted the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat on his inaugural visit to the US ‘to discuss his vision for the city.’
  • On 6 May 2009 Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed New York leaders ‘at a special luncheon’, following meetings with President Obama and Vice President Biden.
  • On 11 August 2009 new Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren addressed the Conference of Presidents.
  • On 24 September 2009 the Conference of Presidents jointly with the Consulate General of Israel in New York hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who has also spoken on a number of other occasions.
  • On 8 June 2010 the far-right Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman was welcomed.
  • On 1 March 2011 leaders of the Conference of Presidents and its member organizations met with US President Barack Obama at the White House ‘to discuss U.S.-Israel relations, ongoing changes in the Middle East and other issues’.
  • On 9 March 2001, Ofer Eini, Chairman of the Histadrut and Vice President of the International Trade Unions Confederation, gave ‘a special briefing about the role of labor in the efforts to combat the delegitimization of Israel’.
  • On 15 September 2011 the Conference of Presidents hosted the former Commander-In-Chief of the Israeli Air Force and the current President/CEO of EL AL Israel Airlines, Major General (Ret.) Elyezer Shkedy.
  • On 19 December 2011 leaders of the Conference of Presidents met with Former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.[21]

Of a previous visit by Avigdor Lieberman in December 2006, Michael F. Brown has noted that the Conference reports the Israeli politician declared 'There is a clash of civilizations - a conflict of values - between Jews and Arabs, and there can only be peace if there is separation between them'[22].

Brown notes that in their account of these comments the Presidents Conference neither denounces nor explicitly supports this view. He comments:

Here is a major Israeli official speaking directly of separation between Jews and Arabs — referred to in different world circumstances as a component of apartheid, Jim Crow, or ethnic cleansing — without being roundly condemned as a racist. Are the organizations that comprise the Conference of Presidents prepared to stand by and accept such bigoted notions from a prominent Israeli Member of Knesset?[23]

Leadership Mission visit to illegal settlement

Every year, a “mission” trip to Israel and one other country is organised, intended to 'cement relationships between the members of the Presidents Conference and the Israeli leadership'. In recent years the other countries have included South Africa[24], Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Russia, and Uzbekistan.[25].

The Conference's February 2011 Israel Leadership Mission, the 37th annual visit to Israel, saw Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, amongst others, speak to a delegation. Sessions included a 'Tribute to the IDF' and a talk entitled Settlements: Are They the Challenge to Peace?'[26].

For the latter talk, delegates went to Ariel, an illegal settlement in the West Bank, and heard from its mayor, Ron Nachman, who said that 'As the Jewish people have an inalienable right to live in all of Israel, they could not then be considered occupiers or trespassers.' They also visited Ariel University Center of Samaria 'heard from several of the university students, including an Ethipian immigrant, an Israeli Arab student' who spoke of 'an inclusive and supportive academic environment where equality and tolerance led to a healthy learning environment with freedom of expression'.[27]

Rewarding Canada for boycotting Durban II

The Conference of Presidents announced in 2008 that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper would receive its inaugural International Leadership Award. The group said this was in appreciation for Canada's 'courageous stands' in stating that it would boycott the United Nations 'Durban II' anti-racism conference which Israeli leaders believed would be anti-Israel.[28]

Positions

Endorsement of One Jerusalem rally

In 2001, there was disagreement among board members over whether to endorse the One Jerusalem rally organised partly by Natan Sharansky, a right-wing protest against sharing the city with the Palestinians. Sharansky was invited to put hsi case to the board, but no representative of Ehud Barak's government was invited to put the counter-argument. In the end, 17 board members voted in favor of participating and 10 voted against. Then chairman Ronald Lauder was in favour of the rally and attended himself.[29].

Defence of John Hagee

In April 2008, seven former chairmen of the Presidents Conference wrote to the New York Times expressing appreciation and respect for televangelist Pator John Hagee who they said had been 'a true friend of Israel for many years'. A key figure on the Christian right, Hagee founded the Christian Zionist organisation Christians United for Israel (CUFI).[30]

Jim Lobe notes that this action came shortly after Eric Yoffie, the president of the influential Union of Reform Judaism, called on Jews to disassociate themselves from Hagee[31], who has taken Biblically-inspired hardline positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Calls for release of Jonathan Pollard

In 2008 the Conference of Presidents made a controversial please to outgoing President George W. Bush that he pardon Jonathan Pollard (imprisoned in 1987 after being convicted of spying for Israel) in the hope that at the end of his term Bush would feel able to take such action, strongly opposed in U.S. intelligence circles.[32].

In April 2012, following a request from Israeli President Shimon Peres to Obama, the Conference of Presidents again called for Pollard's sentence to be commuted.[33]

Support for Gaza bombardment

While some American Jewish groups called for a ceasefire during Israel's 3 week bombing campaign in Gaza in December 2008 - January 2009, the Conference, along with AIPAC, reportedly 'expressed unqualified support for the offensive, stressing that it was a justifiable and necessary act of self-defence and dismissing concerns about disproportionate use of force or potential long-term political effects.'[34]

Rachel Corrie Fact Sheet

In March 2010, the Conference of Presidents published a 'fact sheet' that was 'excerpted from an Investigation Conducted by the IDF' into the death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie while she was working with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). It states the following:

  • Rachel Corrie died in a tragic accident on March 16, 2003, while participating in dangerous activities orchestrated by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
  • ISM protestors claim that the driver of the IDF bulldozer saw Rachel Corrie standing in his path and ran over her deliberately. In fact:
  • The bulldozer driver did not see Rachel Corrie – and was not aware of her proximity to the bulldozer.
  • Rachel Corrie was standing behind an earth mound and was obscured from the bulldozer crew’s view.
  • There was no direct contact between the bulldozer and Rachel Corrie
  • Rachel Corrie’s death was a result of injuries she sustained when earth and debris accidentally fell on her.
  • The irresponsible and dangerous conduct of ISM activists—blatantly ignoring IDF warnings, refusing to leave the area, and purposely putting themselves in harm’s way—is a major factor leading to the tragic result of this incident.[35]

Other ISM activists have maintained that the bulldozer driver saw Corrie and her family filed a lawsuit in 2005 charging the State of Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing and failure to conduct a full and credible investigation. A verdict is due on 28 August 2012[36]

What others say

An obstacle to peace

In the opinion of one commentator:

AIPAC and the Presidents Conference have kept the United States from taking steps that many believe are essential if peace is ever to come to the region. The issue of settlements illustrates the point. Under both Labor and Likud governments, Israel has continued to expand and entrench its outposts in the occupied territories, a policy that has been a constant irritant in the Arab world. As the supplier of billions of dollars of aid to Israel every year, the United States could exercise some leverage on this issue. Yet it rarely uses it, and these organizations deserve much of the credit -- or blame.
With Israelis and Palestinians killing one another in an ever escalating cycle of revenge and retaliation, only strong intervention by the United States seems capable of stopping it. But as long as groups like AIPAC and the Presidents Conference continue to be controlled by a small, unrepresentative core, such a role for Washington seems out of the question.[37].

Principals and Members

Every two years the Conference rotates its chairmanship - according to Allison Hoffman to 'keep peace among its various constituent groups'.[38] Michael Massing writes that 'candidates for the two-year position are put forward by a nominating committee that is appointed by the outgoing chairperson in consultation with Hoenlein; the final decision is made by the full board'. He also notes that 'By charter, [the Conference] is supposed to act only when there is a consensus among its members.' In his opinion; 'In practice, however, the organization is run largely by one man, Malcolm Hoenlein'[39]

Former staff

  • Yehuda Hellman - Founder and Executive Director until death in May 1986

Former chairmen

Ted Mann (1978-1980)[40] | Kenneth Bialkin | Seymour D. Reich (1988-1990)[41] | Ronald Lauder (1999-2001) | Mortimer Zuckerman (2001-2003) | Harold Tanner (2005-2007) | James Tisch | Mel Salberg | Shoshana Cardin[42] | Lester Pollack [43] | Alan Solow (2009-2011)

Member organizations and representation issues

Member organisations in the coalition display some political breadth and include the more liberal Zionists of Americans for Peace Now and the staunchly right-wing Zionist Organization of America. However, organisation such as J Street and the New Israel Fund are not members. Nor are two other 'major' Jewish organisations - Chabad-Lubavitch and Agudath Israel - members of the Conference.[44]

It has been argued that the voting system of the Conference is problematic since major organisations which are generally more liberal such as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (each with around 1.5 million American Jewish members) get one vote on the board, as do groups with smaller congragations and less liberal attitutdes like the Orthodox Union, the Zionist Organization of America, and American Friends of Likud. Michael Massing writes: 'The smaller conservative groups in the conference decisively outnumber the larger liberal ones and so can neutralize their influence. And that leaves considerable discretion in the hands of Malcolm Hoenlein.'[45]

Affiliations

Working closely with AIPAC

The Presidents Conference and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), widely considered the two most influential bodies in the American Israel lobby, reportedly 'work together closely'.

AIPAC is a member organisation of the Presidents Conference but more importantly all the members of the Presidents Conference have a seat on AIPAC's executive comittee. Meanwhile, whoever chairs the Presidents Conference is a member of AIPAC's inner ruling body, the officers' group.

The two organisations carry out different lobbying functions, however: COP 'focuses on the executive branch of the U.S. government, AIPAC concentrates on Congress'[46].

Funding

Hoffman reports that Thomas Kaplan, 'the billionaire president of the board of the 92nd Street Y' is a Conference donor.[47]

In 2002, it was reported that the conference had an annual budget of less than a million dollars, and employed employs only six staff - but also asserted 'its clout belies its modest size'.[48].

Acoording to data on the website Charity Navigator, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Fund reported revenue of over $2 million in the year 2010-2011 and spent close to $3 million.[49]

Publications

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs provides a daily news alert for the Presidents' Conference. The 2002-2012 archives can be accessed here.[50]

The Presidents' Conference also provides links to information resources on the 'delegitimization' of Israel, including reports by the Reut Institute and CAMERA.[51]

Contact

633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
United States
Phone:(+1) 212 318 6111
Email: info@conferenceofpresidents.org
Website: http://www.conferenceofpresidents.org/

Resources

References

  1. Israel and the Settlers, New York Times, accessed 17 July 2012
  2. Michael Massing, Deal Breakers, American Prospect, accessed 17 July 2012
  3. Conference Riles Critics Again by Promoting Call With McCain Campaign, Jewish Daily Forward, accessed 18 July 2012
  4. Paumgarten, Nick, "The Tycoon." The New Yorker, 23 July 2007
  5. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  6. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  7. About the Conference, CoMAJO, accessed 17 July 2012
  8. The United Nations and International Fora, Conference of Presidents, accessed 18 July 2012
  9. About, Israel Campus Beat, accessed 3 July 2012
  10. Who We Are, Israel Campus Beat, accessed 15 July 2012
  11. America's Voices in Israel, Conference of Presidents, accessed 3 July 2012
  12. About Us, America's Voices in Israel, accessed 17 July 2012
  13. Batsheva Sobelman, ISRAEL: Trying classic, digital and celebrity diplomacy, Los Angeles Times, accessed 17 July 2012
  14. America's Voices in Israel Relaunched, George Rohr Announces Irwin Katsof Named as New Director , PRWeb, accessed 17 July 2012
  15. About, IrwinKatsof.com, accessed 17 July 2012
  16. Highlights of Wednesday withOmar Epps, Holly Robinson Peete, Holt McCallany, Paul Johansson, Paget Brewster, Mekhi Phifer, Zach Roerig & AnnaLynne McCord, America's Voices in Israel, accessed 17 July 2012
  17. National Association of Evangelicals visit Israel! Days 5-7, America's Voices in Israel, accessed 17 July 2012
  18. Secure Community network, Conference of Presidents, accessed 3 July 2012
  19. Leadership Action Network, Conference of Presidents, accessed 3 July 2012
  20. The Lawfare Project, Conference of Presidents, accessed 3 July 2012
  21. Recent Events, Conference of Presidents, accessed 3 July 2012
  22. Avigdor Lieberman - Deputy Prime Minister of Israel and Minister of Strategic Affairs, Conference of Presidents, accessed 19 July 2012
  23. Sole protester greets otherwise unchallenged Lieberman, Electronic Intifada, accessed 19 July 2012
  24. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  25. Mihcael Massing, Deal Breakers, American Prospect, accessed 17 July 2012
  26. 2011 Israel Leadership Mission, CoPMAJO, accessed 18 July 2012
  27. Settlements: Are they the Challenge to Peace?, CoPMAJO, accessed 18 July 2012
  28. Presidents Conference to honor Harper, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, accessed 18 July 2012
  29. Mihcael Massing, Deal Breakers, American Prospect, accessed 17 July 2012
  30. Pastor Hagee and Israel, New York Times, accessed 19 July 2012
  31. New Jewish lobby seeks to redefine "pro-Israel", Electronic Intifada, accessed 19 July 2012
  32. Pres. Conf. calls for Pollard pardon, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, accessed 18 July 2012
  33. Conference of Presidents Leaders Back Peres' Request for Pollard's Release, Conference of Presidents, accessed 19 July 2012
  34. Daniel Luban, MIDEAST: U.S. Jewish Peace Lobby Isolated on Gaza, Inter Press Service, accessed 19 July 2012
  35. Rachel Corrie Fact Sheet, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, accessed 18 July 2012
  36. Verdict in Corrie Lawsuit to be Announced August 28, 2012, Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, accessed 18 July 2012
  37. Michael Massing, Deal Breakers, American Prospect, accessed 17 July 2012
  38. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  39. Michael Massing, Deal Breakers, The American Prospect, accessed 18 July 2012
  40. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  41. Seymour D. Reich, Examining Mr. Obama's foreign policy, The Washington Post, 25 November 2010
  42. Pastor Hagee and Israel, New York Times, accessed 19 July 2012
  43. Lester Pollack: An Illustrious Record of Leadership, NYU Law School Magazine, accessed 17 July 2012
  44. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  45. Michael Massing, Deal Breakers, The American Prospect, accessed 18 July 2012
  46. Michael Massing, Deal Breakers, American Prospect, accessed 17 July 2012
  47. Allison Hoffman, King Without A Crown, Tablet, accessed 18 July 2012
  48. Michael Massing, Deal Breakers, American Prospect, accessed 17 July 2012
  49. Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Fund, Charity Navigator, accessed 19 July 2012
  50. Daily Alert Archive, Conference of Presidents, accessed 18 July 2012
  51. Informational Resources on Delegitimization, Conference of Presidents, accessed 18 July 2012