Almost every American Jewish community of a certain size has a Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) whose mandate it is to build bridges and foster warm relations with other communal, ethnic, and racial groups. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is the national umbrella organization of these local JCRCs. Few understand that rather than reflect the values and policies of the national collective, the JCPA has come to dictate policies for every locale, policies whose ideology explains how and why everyone’s JCRC seems to have become so radically left. It’s time Jews knew how their JCRCs function.
The JCRCs are either part of or affiliated with their local Jewish Federations. Sixteen other national Jewish organizations are also listed as JCPA members.
The JCPA says it represents the four main branches of American Judaism and has stylized itself as a “consensus builder” so as to navigate politically non-homogeneous Jewish communities, and at the same time claim to represent a “unified front.” In reality, the JCPA has become just another “woke” progressive organization whose political activism is abetted by the self-selected members of the local JCRCs.
Founded in 1944 by the Council of Jewish Federations, the JCPA was to serve as a venue for Jewish communities and Federations to discuss and organize their interests, which at one time included extensive work in the civil rights movement. And like many of the infant communal Jewish organizations, the JCPA’s formation was conceived in the ashes of the Holocaust.
Recognizing the value of working in common cause with other minority communities, in 1950 the JCPA and the NAACP cofounded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights as a clearinghouse and coordinating body for all civil rights lobbying. According to its website, the Leadership Conference today “remains the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition.”
Since then, the JCPA, which remains part of the Leadership Conference, has expanded its social justice policy platform. Virtually every political matter under discussion in America including climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration, voting rights, and LGBTQI+, can be found in the JCPA’s Policy Compendium. These policies are derived through a resolutions process and are intended to be the positions parroted by the JCRCs.
The resolutions adoption process begins with the annual plenum and is finalized by the Delegates Assembly which is attended by one lay representative and one professional representative from each JCRC. This group is considered “the highest deliberative body on public policy matters for the community relations network. Like the plenum, its purpose is to oversee and set new public positions and priorities for the community relations field through a resolutions process.”
As part of the JCPA’s network, the local JCRCs are asked to endorse JCPA resolutions and to use them to focus their local grassroots and lobbying activities even if they do not reflect the broader community’s priorities, opinions, or religious values.
JCPA resolutions forwarded last year to local JCRCs for endorsement included a resolution on “voter suppression,” the language of which effectively endorses the Democrats’ voter legislation H.R. 1, which weakens voter identification requirements. The federal elections takeover bill, widely known to be a top priority for Democrats in Congress (dubbed by some as the “Keep Democrats in Power Forever Act”), deliberately guts the extensive work of the bipartisan Jimmy Carter—James Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform, whose report specifically recommended increased voter ID requirements and other election integrity measures. Keeping Democrats in power is so important to the JCPA that their version of voter suppression has been retained as a 2022 federal policy priority.
As intended, this year Nashville’s JCRC staff director used her platform while speaking to a local rotary club to inappropriately cite the rise in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust as reasons to support H.R. 1.
The resolution on climate change—a vast array of policy changes—failed to account for the economic, societal, or national security ramifications of this profound transformation, while the resolution to address “systemic disparities and discrimination across all aspects of our society” by “strengthening Jewish communal relations with Black communities” was designed to conceal the hard facts about BLM’s founders and leadership’s very real animus toward Israel and support for the BDS campaign.
The resolutions handed down to local JCRCs are overwhelmingly aligned with the agenda of the Democratic Party, assigning Jewish and Israeli interests to secondary status. JCPA’s leftward orientation is additionally demonstrated by its membership in a number of leftist groups including Census Counts 2020, Declaration for American Democracy, and the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. It should be noted that the leadership team of this last group is driven by the committed leftist Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and pro-BDS groups T’ruah and Bend the Arc. These alliances among others leave little doubt that JCPA has chosen a self-serving interpretation of “Jewish values of fairness and justice” to justify shaping the Jewish community relations field into a partisan instrument of the left while excluding a significant portion of the Jewish community.
The JCPA also pushes for legal and political action directly through established channels, such as direct lobbying for legislation and legal action in the form of filing amicus briefs with the courts, and offers its members best practices to implement programs and issue-based advocacy toolkits. The “JCRC Playbook” and a database that includes “marketing materials,” is reserved for paid JCRC staff and lay leaders.
Similar to virtually every Jewish communal organization, the JCPA’s mission statement includes a specific reference to Israel, and over the years, the JCPA has addressed the BDS movement. To this end, the JCPA in conjunction with the Jewish Federations established the “Israel Action Network” to fight BDS and claims that “working closely with local JCRCs has helped defeat BDS at the state and municipal level and on college campuses across the nation.”
It’s reasonable then to ask why JCPA featured Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) at the April 2021 annual conference after he had co-signed the 2019 National Council of Churches letter. That letter is noted for being replete with anti-Israel propaganda and statements taken from the BDS playbook with references such as, the”need to preserve the option of utilizing economic pressure as a means of bringing recalcitrant dominant forces to the negotiating table,” Palestinian “right of return,” and “compar[ing] Israel to ‘oppressive regimes’ like ‘apartheid South Africa.’”
The incredibly tone-deaf JCPA invitation to Warnock would be laughable were it not for its hypocrisy: Warnock joined Amy Spitalnick as a speaker in a session titled “Racism, Antisemitism & Fighting Hate.” That’s the same Amy Spitalnick who was making the rounds with her talk “Fighting White Supremacy: From Charlottesville to Capitol Hill” and characterizing the problem as endemic to the mainstream right.
Not surprisingly, the JCPA endorsed Kristen Clarke, President Biden’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights while conveniently ignoring Clarke’s public support for Tamika Mallory, who accused Jews of “uphold[ing] white supremacy” and defended her relationship with super-anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. If you aren’t convinced by JCPA’s defense of Clarke, check out mainstream-Republicans-are-white-supremacists Amy Spitalnick’s endorsement of Clarke’s appointment.
JCRC membership in the JCPA is not mandatory and not all Federations or JCRCS are members. Those that have wisely chosen to not throw local Jewish communal organizations directly into a partisan political fray should feel vindicated in this choice by observations made by JCPA’s former president and CEO, David Bernstein.
After leading JCPA for five years, Bernstein, a self-described liberal, left the JCPA in mid 2021, amid the organization’s increasingly extreme political advocacy. He watched as liberal and leftist Jewish voices and organizations including the JCPA, ignored all the warning signs of the “woke cancel culture” and the “dangers this raises for Jews is the way it twists how some on the left talk about anti-Semitism.”
Generally, the JCRCs are comprised of at least one paid staff member and self-selected lay volunteers, a design that has proven unable to represent politically diverse Jewish communities. If the local JCRCs are to be authentic communal organizations, welcoming and respectful of diversity of opinion, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, religious observance, and political affiliation, then the membership of the JCRCs and involvement with the JCPA and its political objectives, should be discontinued. JCRCs would benefit from a deliberate effort to balance the political diversity of its lay volunteers and depoliticize paid staff. JCRCs should reflect the interests and issues of its Jewish community members.
JCPA directorship of the JCRCs alienates a portion of the Jewish community in which the JCRC operates—which Jewish communities can ill afford given the efforts of a progressive movement working to elect more Ilhan Omars and Rashida Tlaibs to Congress. If the JCPA intends to be a credible leader of politically diverse Jewish communities, it needs to undergo a serious self-assessment—and re-establish Israel and Jewish interests as the first order of business.