NEW YORK – Malcolm Hoenlein may be standing in a largely empty, ornate Trump International Hotel ballroom late Wednesday afternoon during the Conference of Presidents’ now-infamous Hanukkah party.
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It is well known that eight of the Conference of Presidents’ left-of-center member organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism and National Council of Jewish Women, pulled out of the event. They cited reasons ranging from the fact that the party is being co-hosted by the embassy of Azerbaijan, a Muslim-led country with a questionable human rights record, to the fact that it is being held in a new hotel property owned by the president-elect, which raises questions about the appearance of trying to curry favor with him.
What has not been known, until now, is that several of the Conference’s centrist member groups – core constituents including the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah and Jewish Federations of North America – are also refusing to attend the party.
Sources at the ADL, AJC and Hadassah confirmed that they will not participate, as did someone close to JFNA.
“These groups seem to care more about displaying their partisan anti-Trump animus than about the serious mistake of offending the next president of the United States, which would negatively impact our joint duty to promote strong U.S.-Israel relations,” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America – which is definitely attending the Conference party – told Haaretz. “I doubt these groups would have complained if we had booked a ‘Clinton’ hotel after a Hilary Clinton victory.”
What’s more, the Conference invited the current and three former Obama White House liaisons to the Jewish community to be honored and attend its party. All declined to participate at any level. To be fair, they will all likely be at the White House Hanukkah reception – Obama's final Jewish party in the White House – which starts at 6:30 P.M. local time.
The Conference’s Hoenlein did not respond to several emails sent by Haaretz seeking his comment.
His organization’s party, timed to allow people to go to both its party and the White House reception, is slated to take place at the Trump hotel a few blocks away from 4 P.M. to 6 P.M. The Conference gathering will take place in the Trump hotel’s Lincoln Library, which the hotel’s website describes as having 16 foot coffered ceilings, ornate millwork, gilded mirrors and velvet draperies.
The mainstream Conference member agencies have not put made public statements about their decision.
“Nobody’s going. The reasons are obvious,” said one Washington Jewish insider. “It is highly embarrassing for Malcolm Hoenlein.”
Hoenlein “obviously did not anticipate the backlash” against holding it in a Trump hotel, said another. “He really didn’t know what he was doing.”
Some of the mainstream Conference member executives offered public explanations for why they aren’t going.
Janice Weinman, Hadassah’s CEO, told Haaretz that her organization has an executive committee meeting ending just in time for her to take a 4 P.M. flight to Washington for the White House party.
Someone close to the JFNA said that its leaders “are traveling home” and “have other commitments.”
One of the White House Jewish liaisons struck a different tone, telling Haaretz, “are you kidding? I was getting invitations to the protest and I know half the people who are going to that,” speaking of the If Not Now-organized demonstration planned for outside the hotel.
If Not Now is a grassroots protest group whose main focus has been the Israeli occupation, but since Trump’s election has been busy demonstrating against the Trump administration and the Jewish groups it views as cozying up to the president-elect. Hundreds of people turned out to protest outside the Zionist Organization of America’s recent annual banquet, which expected to host Trump adviser Steve Bannon. His Breitbart News agency has proudly promoted white supremacist groups. Bannon never showed up.
The remaining Conference of Presidents member organizations apparently still planning to attend the Hanukkah party include relatively small groups like the ZOA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (or CAMERA) and Emunah of America as well as some larger ones like the Orthodox Union.
“A number of the groups are seemingly not that distressed by the Trump administration’s direction. It seems pretty clear that there is a strong desire to protect access for the full agenda, one piece of which is Israel,” said Gideon Aranoff, CEO of Ameinu, one of the Conference member institutions that earlier pulled out of the Chanukah party.
“From our perspective it’s worse for the Jewish community, worse for Israel, and worse for Jewish-Muslim relations to appear to be currying favor with the Trump administration, so holding this event at his hotel is a terrible mistake,” Aranoff told Haaretz.