The 2016 Annual Conference for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs took place in Cleveland, OH, May 14-17, and the dominant theme was uniting to confront the various challenges our Jewish communities face. The JCPA is the umbrella organization of JCRCs and other national organizations and this year’s conference was both informative and inspiring.
The conference kicked off with a fascinating plenary session about political polarization, led by two former congressmen who decided to leave Congress because of the toxic political discourse. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX) wrote a book together detailing how, over the course of the last 10 years, the extremes on both the right and the left have predominated, and moderates have either been voted out, redistricted or otherwise marginalized. Jewish communities can play a role in helping to create an atmosphere of civility, and advocating for a political moderation.
Another fascinating plenary session focused on the turmoil in the Middle East and was moderated by Ami Eden, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service. The featured speakers were Elliot Abrams and Tamara Wittes, both former presidential advisors and recognized experts in the field.
They directly addressed the issues that concern our Jewish community, namely how will the chaos affect Israel, the United States, and the American Jewish community. The speakers emphasized that Israel’s threats have changed as Syria no longer poses any real threat and the chaos has created under the radar alliances between Israel and several Arab nations … even ones that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
The drop in oil prices has affected Iran’s ability to finance terror operations around the world. They also said that the chaos has dispelled any myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the source of problems in the Middle East.
Other fascinating topics addressed by this conference included discussions about how to counter the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement against Israel and how to foster civil dialogue among those whose views on Israel are wildly divergent. Other Jewish communities around the country have been negatively affected by the vitriol in the dialogue around Israel, something I am happy to that Louisville has managed to avoid.
One of the highlights of the annual Plenum is the Resolutions session, an opportunity for Jewish communities around the country to craft proposals on Jewish policy guidelines, and for the communities to vote on it. This year there were two proposals.
The first one had to do with Wage Theft, a real problem affecting low wage workers who often do not have the ability to fight for the wages they rightfully earned. The resolution called for, among other things, advocating for increased funding for State and Federal agencies that enforce outstanding judgments against employers who owe money to their employers.
The other resolution had to do with the issue of climate change, urging Jewish communities to advocate for stronger international agreements and domestic policy, and deeper Jewish environmental education and engagement.
Methodists and Presbyterians
As some of you know, both the Methodists and Presbyterians are having their bi-annual meeting this month, and both are considering resolutions that are one sided in their criticism of Israel, and seek to punish Israel (and not any other countries whose human rights records are far worse).
Our national leadership has taken up the fight, and is working with other faith leaders in the respective Protestant communities. Thankfully our efforts have proven fruitful, as the Methodists have rejected all four anti-Israel resolutions and have even gone so far as to accept a recommendation to withdraw from the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, widely considered an anti-Zionist group.
We are hopeful that the resolutions before the Presbyterians will be defeated as well, and we will know soon enough.
But this was another theme of the JCPA conference, that while good relations with our neighbors from other faiths are important in their own right, but they can also help on other issues like Israel advocacy. Our good relations with members of the Presbyterian and Methodist communities allows our national leadership to have fruitful conversations about Israel and many other topics.