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President’s Conference Is Criticized for Rejecting Bid by Meretz and Reconstructionists

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 2003

After nearly five years of applications and appeals, Meretz USA’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was officially rejected in December.  

According to The Forward (Dec. 20, 2002), “Meretz USA did not meet the definition of a ‘major’ Jewish organization. But officials from the ... pro-Oslo Meretz USA have alleged that the decision was motivated by political bias ... The group supports the activities of Israel’s Meretz Party, whose platform includes calls for reducing the power of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate over civil affairs, support for a Palestinian state with possible concessions in Jerusalem, giving up all the Golan Heights in return for full peace with Syria, and the disbanding of small, isolated settlements even during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on permanent status arrangements.”  

Charney Bromberg, executive director of Meretz USA said: “We were slighted for four and a half years, given the run-around and ultimately the membership committee gave a ruling based on non-specific criteria.”  

Stephen Wolnek, chairman of the membership committee and the immediate past president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that the members simply did not think Meretz USA fit the description. “The committee and the Presidents Conference as a whole just didn’t see Meretz USA as one of the majors,” said Wolnek.  

In addition to Meretz USA, the pro-Oslo Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association was rejected in its bid to join the conference as an adjunct member, although the membership committee had supported its application.  

Editorially, The Forward declared that, “Once again the Conference of Presidents ... has given in to what looks suspiciously like political bias by turning down the membership applications of two organizations that deserve to be accepted. The rejected organizations, Meretz USA and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, were nominally rejected on a variety of grounds, mainly revolving around the argument that they are too small to be considered ‘major’ organizations. But their real failing seems to be excessive liberalism.”  

The Forward notes that, “The suggestion that the Presidents Conference genuinely limits its membership to major groups might have stood up to scrutiny two or three decades ago, when it consisted of organizations that could claim either mass membership or a powerful grip on the national imagination. Those days are long gone, however. Today, thanks to loose admission procedures in the first decades after 1967, the conference has ballooned into an ungainly collection of dozens of groups both large and small, major and minor, powerful and laughable. What they share is a political cast, especially on Israel-related matters, that puts the conferences as a whole decidedly to the right of the larger community it claims to represent. ... As now configured ... this body is sorely in need of reinventing. Some clear rules, transparent governing structures and perhaps a sweeping membership review are in order. That should be at the top of the agenda of the next chairman.”

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