Presidents Conferences votes on changes to membership rules

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is voting on changes that would facilitate the entry of new members and would enhance the voice of its members in its day-to-day business.

The changes the foreign policy umbrella for the Jewish community is considering in a meeting on Tuesday would drop the threshold for entry from two thirds to 55 percent of those voting and would reduce the quorum requirement from 75 percent of the over 50 member organizations to two thirds.


Voting could take place via teleconference or video-conference, a reflection of the fact that member groups and their officials no longer tend to be New York City-based.

The Jewish Federations of North America would designate three major Jewish federations as voting members, according to the new rules. This addition redresses complaints that organizations with relatively small memberships have votes equal to large groups.

Effectively giving JFNA four votes would place it on a par with the Reform, Orthodox and Conservative religious streams, each of which is represented by four groups, Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein told JTA.

“It’s structured in such a way that it doesn’t diminish the role of the individual members and their role in the conference,” he said.

The new procedures would also set up a 13-member executive committee, to be chaired by the Conference chairman, currently Robert Sugarman.

The committee, which would strive for a diverse membership and would meet monthly, would “increase the sense of participation among Conference members, provide a regular framework for reaching decisions and enhance the process of consensus making as well as the operation of the Conference,” said the document distributed last week to constituents of the conference by the Conference’s Process and Procedures Committee.

There have been ongoing efforts to diversify the Conference since 1999, and this is the sixth round of “tweaks,” Hoenlein said.

The failure of J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, to gain entry in April last year led to renewed calls for change, including warnings from the Reform movement that it would withdraw without reforms to the process.

J Street’s bid lost, with 17 member organizations voting in favor, 22 voting against and three abstaining.