(May 3, 2020 / JNS) The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on April 28 elected its new chair-elect: Dianne Lob of HIAS. The position of chair of the Conference of Presidents—ostensibly one of the most powerful within the Jewish communal world—includes advocating for Israel and the Jewish people with major political figures from around the world, and leading the fight against anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
While Lob no doubt met the technical qualifications for the position as per her previous position with HIAS, a Conference member organization, her previous political actions, or lack thereof, and the fact that she ran unopposed, have engendered opposition to her nomination.
While Lob was chair of HIAS, its president and CEO Mark Hetfield signed a public letter which listed his name along that of HIAS defending activist Linda Sarsour, together with organizations like IfNotNow and J Street. Hetfield claimed he signed his name in his personal capacity and not representing HIAS, notwithstanding its listing next to his signature. The last sentence of the Sarsour letter stated: “[We] publicly state our commitment to working alongside her [Sarsour] for a more just and equal society.”
For her part, after the October 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Sarsour raised $45,000 for HIAS.
Sarsour is not without controversy, and is well-known for her frequent public stance as a leading anti-Zionist and anti-Semite, and is a staunch supporter of the BDS movement. Indeed, she has been accused as aligning herself quite unapologetically with the Muslim Brotherhood.
It needs to be noted that Lob has stated publicly that she views anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as synonymous affronts to both Israel and Jews, that need to be fought.
Which begs the obvious: How can you effectively confront anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism—the two sides of the same coin—while defending and receiving money from the efforts of one of the country’s leading anti-Zionists and anti-Semites in Linda Sarsour? And axiomatically, how can you fight BDS while seemingly ignoring the problem with your organization’s CEO attaching his name publicly to a letter written on behalf of one of the most vocal BDS defenders?
Lob has been unwilling to state that Hetfield’s association with the Sarsour letter was a mistake, or that accepting money from Sarsour was wrong. While all people err, a hallmark of Judaism is its concept of teshuvah, “repentance,” which praises those who own up to mistakes and express a subsequent corrective attitude. If Lob had said that Hetfield’s signing of the Sarsour letter was a mistake, let alone the monies that followed, then the opposition to her nomination would not have been as strong.
Lob won the vote by a 31-8 margin with five abstentions, in an unopposed election, where all previous candidates over the past 20 years won unanimous approval. And for the record, the opposition to Lob had absolutely nothing to do with her being a woman. In fact, had the nominee been HIAS CEO Hetfield and not Lob, the opposition likely would have been far worse. Lob’s nomination was opposed solely on her record, and claims to the contrary are nothing but a pathetic diversion by her supporters, and a failed attempt to slander her opponents.
We can only hope and trust, with the fragmented vote by the Conference and the subsequent uproar, that Lob will learn from the opposition to her nomination and change her views about the likes of Sarsour. One might reason that the jury is out—Lob now has almost a year as chair-elect before she becomes chair of the Conference. Those who opposed her nomination are willing to work with her moving forward because the success of the Conference is in the best interests of American Jewry. We hope that the positions she takes as Conference chair will be mainstream positions of the Conference of Presidents members, and that the Conference of Presidents, with her as chair, continues to stand strong against the opponents of Israel and the Jewish people, such as Linda Sarsour.
Because of our concern—which is not unfounded—the National Council of Young Israel Board, without objection, decided that we would vote against Lob’s nomination as chair-elect and then chair of the Conference. We hope that our vote on principle will send her the message that moral clarity in the fight against anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and the BDS movement that organically follows, is needed. Without reservation.
We presented our position to the Conference of Presidents meeting just before the vote. As such, we will continue our discussions with Lob during her tenure as Conference chair-elect in the hope that she will be a successful chair of the Conference of Presidents, fighting against our enemies whether they manifest themselves overtly or covertly. It is the very reason the Conference exists.
Farley Weiss is the president of the National Council of Young Israel.
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