Marquel, TPVs Times elderly Jewish organizations correspondent, read with interest the New York Times reporting in Jewish Coalition Rejects Lobbying Group’s Bid to Join. The dovish lobbying group J Street, which has occasionally criticized the Israeli government, was denied membership in an influential national umbrella organization.
That organization is the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. It’s a strange name for a group and I asked to speak to the president. They told me they are all presidents and looked at me as if I were an idiot. Of course I knew they were all presidents. That’s how they become members. But I asked if they didn’t have a president of all the presidents.
“We have a leader,” they said. “Isn’t that good enough for you?”
“Good enough for me?” I asked ingratiatingly, “of course it’s good enough for me. Don’t I look like it’s good enough for me? It’s perfect. I just thought that since you are a conference of presidents, you would have a president yourself. But that was stupid. If there were a formal group of former US presidents which would be, let’s see, Carter, Bush I, Bush II, Clinton, and I guess that’s it, they wouldn’t have a president either. They already were, who needs more, right? It’s perfect, it’s perfect!”
I was ushered into a room with their leader. Apparently he’s been their leader for decades. It looked like he was sleeping, but I think he just has a bad slouch.
He mumbled something. I said, “glad to meet you. I was just curious about this J Street thing. Many of your members said that J Street is anti Israel. Is that why they were denied membership?”
He mumbled something else. But all I could tell was that he was drooling. I leaned forward to hand him a tissue but he mumbled something else and just stared at me. So I wiped the drool off his face and sat back down.
“How many years have you led this group?” I asked. He mumbled, and could tell I missed it and then held up his hand.
The answer was four or five. It wasn’t clear if I was supposed to count his thumb, too.
“Four or five years?” I asked, “that can’t be right, I understand you’ve been here forever.” I hoped that wasn’t rude but he shook his head and mouthed something. Decades it seemed.
“Decades?” I asked. He shook his head several times. He reminded me of a horse. A very old horse. With a sway back. About to be shot. I half expected him to whinny except that he was clearly incapable of speech of any kind. The interview wasn’t going well.
“In your years, decades, here,” I asked, “have things changed? Have positions or attitudes altered as events occur? Basically, do you think times change?”
He started foaming a bit at the mouth, held tightly to the arms of his chair with both arms, and actually rose a bit out of the chair. The answer was clearly no, but I was afraid he was about to attack me.
He settled back down when he saw me jot “No” on my pad.
“Well,” I asked, “do you personally feel that J Street is anti Israel? Most of their positions are shared by almost half of all Israelis, the polls show.”
He mumbled again, this time more energetically. I could hear the last two words, “J Street,” so I asked him to repeat his answer.
Again more energy, I got the first word, “where’s” but not the last two, but it seemed he had asked, “where’s J Street?”
“It’s not a place, it’s a group,” I said, “and you voted to exclude them yesterday.”
He mumbled again. All I got was, “stupid.” He didn’t seem to like the name of the organization.
“If they had a different name,” I asked, “would it have made a difference?”
He looked tired. Well, even more tired. But he nodded his head to indicate yes. I couldn’t believe it. But then I heard the word “stupid” again and it was clear he didn’t like the name.
“But what about the people who believe they’re anti Israel?” I asked, “do you believe that too?”
He started getting agitated. I thought he might have a seizure. Aides came in a side door, and led him out. He was shaking.
I left for the anteroom and asked, “is it possible you have a vice president? Maybe somebody a bit younger I could interview?”
Again they looked at me like I were an idiot. They answered me in unison, surprisingly, “we’re not the Conference of Vice Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. We have no vice presidents”
For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why J Street wanted to be a member but I was told it’s important and the leader is just about the most powerful Jewish leader in the country. That got me worried but I went home and practiced mumbling. You never can tell.
For the best mumbling lessons money can buy, go to @MarquelatTPV.
Jewish Coalition Rejects “J Street” as Member – Could Not Located It on NYC Map