The ascension of Dianne Lob to chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has been put on hold, following partisan political anger over her former role as head of an immigrant and refugee charity.
Lob’s nomination to lead the Conference, which represents some 50 Jewish organizations from across the ideological spectrum, struck a nerve with far-right members of the umbrella organization. The most strident protests came from Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein, who slammed Lob as “unqualified” and “hostile” to Israel after her nomination was announced on April 17, and urged that her nomination be withdrawn.
She had previously served as head of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, an organization founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing Eastern Europe and later the Holocaust. In recent decades, it extended its efforts to aiding non-Jewish refugees. HIAS is now one of nine agencies in the United States that help resettle refugees – and the only Jewish one among them. But after U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and election, Jewish groups aligned with his administration adopted his harsher stance toward immigration – putting them at odds with HIAS.
Lob was to be elected chair of the Conference on Tuesday. In light of the controversy, its leadership has proposed that she instead be given the role of “chair-elect” with the current chair, Arthur Stark, continuing to officially lead the group until April 1, 2021, when she will take over.
On Sunday night, the Conference issued a statement announcing the decision, saying that it was intended “to forge greater unity in the Conference” and that it was “in the best interest of the forward-looking governance of the Conference to implement a practice that is in place in many organizations, which is to create the role of chair-elect.”
The statement, which was signed by both Stark and Lob, added that they were “pleased” the Conference’s Process and Procedures Committee and Executive Council had unanimously endorsed the decision to create the position, which “enhances the effectiveness of the transition.” Citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis and the importance of collaboration, it adds that the new position be implemented during every chair’s second term going forward, following further deliberation.
When Lob’s nomination was first announced, the group’s CEO and President William Daroff, along with its Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein, praised her, saying that she “brings a unique and valued outlook from her leadership position as the chair of one of the most storied organizations in American Jewish life and from her senior positions in the financial industry.”
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But ZOA President Klein and Chairman Mark S. Levenson wrote a fiercely-worded letter accusing HIAS, under Lob’s leadership, of collaborating with organizations that are anti-Semitic and “hostile to Israel.” It also charged that HIAS was “not a Jewish organization,” “has primarily non-Jewish (especially Muslim) clients” and has ignored European Jews fleeing anti-Semitism.
In recent years, the relationship between ZOA and HIAS has been strained, as HIAS has become increasingly high-profile in challenging Trump’s immigration policies. ZOA’s major financial backers include Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who were counted among Trump’s biggest campaign donors in 2016, and continue to back pro-Trump PACs.
Lob responded to the charges with a statement defending herself “as someone deeply devoted to Jewish values and to the importance of safeguarding the special U.S.-Israel relationship” and in which she pledged to “support … a strong and vibrant Israel” and strongly oppose the BDS movement and the delegitimization of Israel.