In advance of a vote of members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that will determine whether the organization J Street will be granted membership, Rabbinical Assembly President Rabbi Gerald Skolnik and Executive Vice President Rabbi Julie Schonfeld released the following statement:
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international membership association of Conservative rabbis will cast its vote to admit J Street into the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Voting to admit J Street is not an endorsement of some or all of J Street’s policies (though some of our colleagues would do so), but rather an affirmation of the pluralistic nature of the Jewish community, and its views on Israeli policies.
The most important factor in our decision is that many Israeli government officials, including several at the highest levels have met with J Street. Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, the current government coalition’s own selected representative to the peace process was J Street’s keynote speaker at their 2013 convention, President Peres met with them officially, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke at their 2012 convention and former head of the Shin Bet Ami Ayalon is an endorser. If the Israeli government at such high levels engages in dialogue with an organization there is not a justification for Jewish organizations to say that they will not.
Every year, when AIPAC convenes its policy conference, well over 55% of all the rabbis in attendance are Conservative rabbis. Many of our colleagues bring with them congregational delegations of substantial size and influence. The past three presidents of AIPAC have been active members of Conservative synagogues. Conservative rabbis at AIPAC policy conference serve Hillels, schools and organizations as well as synagogues and include some who also attend J Street’s annual convention or other meetings. The Conservative Movement prides itself not only on pluralism but also on an embrace of the essence of rabbinic Jewish tradition that finds a place for multiple views in real dialogue – from the pages of our Talmud to the tables where our own committees sit to study and debate.
We firmly believe that it is not only possible to sit with individuals and organizations whose opinions may differ, but that it is necessary for a strong and resilient community to do so. The RA does not and will not engage in dialogue with any organization that is anti-semitic, anti-Israel or pro-BDS, but there must be a heavy burden of proof on a decision to bar from the communal table an organization that identifies itself as pro-Israel and opposed to the BDS movement and which has been as widely received in dialogue by Israeli government officials as J Street has.
The Rabbinical Assembly prides itself on its support of Israel and the Jewish people, and its love of Israel and the Jewish people. We are willing to sit with people with whom we sometimes disagree and we hope that through this dialogue we can strengthen our people worldwide and support our shared vision for a strong Israel, living side by side in peace with her neighbors.