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As Conference of Presidents head defends criticism of Schumer, left-wing groups revolt

“It’s not the time for public criticisms that really only served to empower the detractors of Israel,” William Daroff said.

Eric Fingerhut (left), president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, and William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in front of an audience of about 300,000 at the “March for Israel” rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. Credit: Laurence Levin/JFNA.
Eric Fingerhut (left), president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, and William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in front of an audience of about 300,000 at the “March for Israel” rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. Credit: Laurence Levin/JFNA.

The head of the largest umbrella group of U.S. Jewish organizations may have a bit of a mutiny on his hands. 

William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is standing by a March 19 statement that he and Harriet Schleifer, the umbrella group’s chair, released after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met virtually with the group’s membership.

The senator addressed his controversial March 14 speech on the Senate floor during which he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu an “obstacle” to peace and said Israel should hold elections. In their letter, Daroff and Schleifer expressed “deep reservations” and said that the group’s 50 member organizations were “remain distressed” by Schumer’s remarks.

“Around every Shabbat table around the world, discussions about political leadership occur and that’s fine and great,” Daroff told reporters on Wednesday.

“The Senate majority leader, to speak out at this time, literally when Israel is fighting an existential war on the embers of the 1,200 innocents who were massacred on Oct. 7— it’s not the time for public criticisms that really only served to empower the detractors of Israel,” Daroff added.

The Conference of Presidents CEO did not share details about the group’s off-the-record meeting with Schumer but said on Wednesday that the senator tried to explain “portions of his speech that he thought were not getting as much coverage as they should.” 

Those included his remarks about the depravity of Hamas’s attacks and the need to support Israel, Daroff told reporters.

Also on Wednesday, eight Reform and progressive Jewish organizations that are members of the Conference of Presidents, and the leadership of a ninth writing in a personal capacity, issued a “rebut” statement saying that the Conference of Presidents leaders didn’t speak for them.

“We are deeply disturbed by the condemnatory statement issued yesterday by the Conference of Presidents following a meeting with Majority Leader Schumer,” stated leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jewish Labor Committee and the Women of Reform Judaism, as well as the leaders of HIAS, writing as individuals.

“Following Sen. Schumer’s meeting yesterday with COP members, COP leaders chose to independently issue their unduly harsh missive, which was divisive and unfair,” the signatories said. “Their statement does not reflect the views of several member entities who support much of the important content of Sen. Schumer’s speech, or even those who disagreed with some of what he said but understood that this speech was a constructive critique made by one of the U.S. Congress’s most passionate champions of a strong and safe Israel.”

Daroff and Schliefer routinely issue statements as COP leaders, sometimes on controversial issues, typically with little to no public pushback from the umbrella group’s member organizations.

The left-wing statement urged the COP to “clarify the processes it follows in deciding when and how to speak with the goal of more effectively reflecting the diversity of legitimate views our organizations hold.”

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