Conference leadership mission had no elected officials or spokespeople from Judea and Samaria speak, even though issues concerning these Jewish communities are constantly being debated.
By Morton A. Klein
(MARCH 2, 2023 / JERUSALEM POST) Several days ago, I returned to the U.S. from attending the annual leadership mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Israel, along with leaders of other American Jewish organizations that are members of the Conference.
The mission’s sole purpose was supposed to be to learn directly from Israel’s key elected leaders about vital and serious issues that confront Israel, so that American Jewish leaders can be better informed when they address their communities, the media and Congress back in the US.
It is painful for me to report that the Conference’s directors violated the leadership mission’s purpose, by refusing to give podiums to the major elected ministers and Israeli leaders who are in the forefront of promoting Israel’s judicial, anti-terror and other reforms: Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and MK Simcha Rothman, chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
The directors also violated their policy of supporting the democratically elected government of Israel. They had supported the Oslo Accords and Gaza withdrawal despite the controversy of these policies because of their policy to support the government of Israel.
Why were critical leaders left out of the conference?
The Conference’s directors’ refusal to have a session with these important current leaders on such critical issues – a form of “cancel culture” – was an enormous missed opportunity to learn from, ask challenging questions to, and exchange views with the judicial and anti-terror reforms’ originators.
Americans are being inundated with misinformed, bald claims that the reforms are “undemocratic.” Shouldn’t American leaders have had the opportunity to hear from the Israeli leaders and originators who are in the best position to explain why the reforms would in fact make Israel safer, more democratic, and more like American democracy?
In addition, the Conference leadership mission had no elected officials or spokespeople from Judea and Samaria speak, even though issues concerning these Jewish communities are constantly being debated. This Conference cancel culture refusal denied American Jewish leaders the opportunity to learn and ask questions about: the situation on the ground in the Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria, increased Arab terrorism, how Jews living in and building homes there are being falsely maligned, the Biden administration’s pressures and interference, and the dangers of the enormous amount of EU-funded illegal Arab building in Area C.
The Conference’s failure to hold these meetings contradicted the Conference’s own statement last week that the leadership mission was a forum for top American Jewish leaders to “engage in an annual weeklong conversation with top Israeli leaders,” including sessions with “the top echelons of the Israeli political landscape” about “key issues” including differences between American liberals and “a staunchly conservative Israeli coalition that is advancing policies most Israeli voters support, but many American Jewish leaders consider controversial.”
As someone who has carefully studied, spoken about, and written in favor of judicial reform, I hoped to hear from its key proponents during the Conference mission.
I and other leaders of American Jewish organizations urged the Conference to have a session with the Israeli leaders who are in the trenches every day, fighting for these reforms. Three past chairpersons of the Conference (even those who oppose the reforms) strongly supported meeting directly with these Israeli ministers.
They were shocked when I told them of the Conference’s refusal to hold a session with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and Rothman. Disappointingly, Conference directors gave us excuses for not doing so that frankly made no sense.
In a published interview, the CEO of Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) Alex Traiman asked William Daroff, CEO of the Conference, why he refused to provide access to Smotrich, Ben-Gvir and Rothman “even though they are directly relevant to the issues the Conference is sure to address.”
Daroff gave another irrelevant response, that the Conference mission did not meet with “other party leaders” such as Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa’ar and Merav Michaeli. But none of those other party leaders is leading reform efforts, and none of them is in the present coalition government that overwhelmingly supports the reforms.
Daroff also responded that ministers Smotrich’s and Ben-Gvir’s views would be “well represented” by others. The Conference leadership mission included a panel with an American law professor who favors reform, and a reform opponent from a think tank. But there is nothing like hearing from the source. We were there to meet with and hear from the key elected Israeli leaders working daily on the issues.
Also, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports these reforms, Netanyahu could not address them with the Conference because he was under a gag order forbidding him from speaking about the reforms.
Since none of the stated reasons for failing to meet Smotrich, Ben-Gvir and Rothman made sense, was something else at play? Did prominent left-wing members of the Conference, who had already publicly demanded that no one should host these officials, pressure the Conference directors to refuse to hold these meetings, and to adopt cancel culture, even though this betrayed the purpose of the Conference’s leadership mission?
As the president of an organization that was involved in founding the Conference, I am concerned that this cancel culture may also be harming the continuing viability of the Conference leadership mission itself. Fewer and fewer busy American Jewish leaders may bother showing up at missions where they cannot learn from and question key officials. And Israeli officials may lose interest in speaking at missions with few American Jewish leaders.
The Conference’s cancel culture failure to hold these meetings also insulted key Israeli leaders, insulted hundreds of thousands of Israeli voters who elected them, and sent a dangerous delegitimizing message to the world.
To try to make amends for the Conference directors’ inappropriate omissions during its leadership mission, the Conference should at least schedule Zoom meetings with Israel’s judicial and anti-terror reform leaders, and leaders in Judea/Samaria, as soon as possible.
Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel organization in the US. The ZOA was involved in the founding of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
This op-ed was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and can be viewed here.