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Malcolm Hoenlein: The Soul of the Conference of Presidents

By Gad Nahshon

Malcolm Hoenlein. 'It is the age of speed! We must act quickly. Once we had a few days to discuss policies. Today it is often only 30 minutes!'
Malcolm Hoenlein. �It is the age of speed! We must act quickly. Once we had a few days to discuss policies. Today it is often only 30 minutes!�

Malcolm Hoenlein devoted 26 years of his life and focused his unique energy and non-stop activity to the success of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations. Currently, this consists of fifty-one secular and religious organizations. He dedicated his public life to building this unique empire. It is a situation of continual studies, research, confrontations, answers, responses, decisions, and policies in order, first of all, to defend Israel, its security, well-being, and its relationship with the USA, including its image in this country. He had to maintain good relations with society, the Federal government, sub-national groups, minorities, and college campuses, just to name a few.

In our interview, Hoenlein remarked that there are more issues, goals and population targets. Among them:

  1. The activists inside the UN;
  2. Managing international relations, especially with Muslim countries, the Middle East or Near East. The conference would like to help in advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. Hoenlein has just returned from a visit in Egypt. He met the generals (the council) and tried to assess what the hope of democratic regime would mean to Israel. He assumes that we cannot know the future achievements of the Arab Spring. Hoenlein, recently, visited other countries such as Turkey and Syria and reviewed the well being of the Jewish population there;
  3. The conference is, also, the defender and guardian of the Diaspora, the world Jewry. For example, the well being of Jews who live in Muslim countries;
  4. The conference has been countering modern global anti-Semitism. This includes debunking the international Jewish conspiracy to occupy the world and even news of blood libels. Also, Hamas still uses the false protocols of elders of Zion, to spread hatred of Jews. The extreme right uses anti-Semitism in countries such as Hungary;
  5. Today, of course, the conference tries to counter the Iranian nuclear threats to Israel, the USA, and the Western countries. The issue is a priority. As a result, Hoenlein established the National Inter-Agency Task Force on Iran. "The goal is to raise awareness among governments, leaders, and public opinion;"
  6. The conference deals with the issue of global terrorism. Dagan, the former head of the Israeli Mossad, wrote that terrorism means a sort of a new army, which it has to counter. A great many acts of terrorism emanate from militant-jihadist Muslims. In the U.S.A., the conference works to defend Jewish facilities;
  7. Hoenlein pointed out some new changes in the activities of the conference's headquarters. He is at the helm, constantly dealing with fast effective challenges. He said, "We live now in the age of globalism, of electronic non-stop revolutions, of the internet, and of multi-linkages and connections. Acts, policies, or decisions are influencing others whether we like it or not. This is the age of speed! We must act very quickly. Once we had a few days to discuss policies while today it is often only 30 minutes!"

Hoenlein believes that the success depends in our unity. It is our magic key to success and to winning battles. He said, "Some argued that Jews did not have power, today they argue that we have too much power� But we need unity!"

The conference was founded in 1955 as a result from John P. Dallas and Abba Eban. In 1959, Nahum Goldman was the first chairman of the conference. There were only fourteen organizations then, while today there are fifty-one. The chairman is Richard Stone, Professor of Law at Columbia University. The chairman is elected for only a one-year term but he can serve a maximum two years. We must note that Israel has an extremely influential lobby, AIPAC, American-Israeli Political Action Committee. AIPAC is a member of the conference.

I.L. Kenen established AIPAC in 1959 and served until 1977. This is an important organization, in Washington D.C., with many members and donors. Kenen used to say AIPAC is not parroting Israel. Hoenlein said: "Often, as American Jews, we maintain our rights, policies, and so on. We like to preserve our independence."

Hoenlein expressed his happiness, today, because the majority of the American people are pro-Israeli. They feel that Israel and the USA have the same basic values. There are moments of tension, of course, because of America's other interests. Hoenlein noted that the conference targeted some Evangelists, not all of whom are pro-Israel. But there are 17,000 churches, which actively support Israel.

Hoenlein established a great weapon of information: "The Leadership Action Network" which sends information and material electronically to 3.5 million Jews and gentiles. It is called The Daily Alert and its news about Israel is global in reach (

The conference would love to attract a younger audience. One more very important project is" Israel Campus Beat." Many students unfortunately are being exposed to anti-Israeli media. There is a preponderance of pro-Arab or Palestinian propaganda It is very sophisticated. Hoenlein remarked that we need more Hasbara. He believes that ignorance serves the enemies of Israel. He said: "We must have more non-expansive education. The young ones are influenced by our modern open society. We must educate them about the things of which they care. They want to know more about the Israelis than about Israel. They come back to our communities when they face a crisis! We must teach everyone that being anti-Israel is like being anti-American! We must be on the top! We should work with our communities and also with foreigners, such as African leaders," said Hoenlein.

There is a new project: "Americas Voices in Israel." We send many celebrities to Israel: media, singers, actors, TV stars, which reflect every race and religion. Many are famous personalities. Now we are active in Hollywood. There is one more project: combating 'lawfare' against Israel, using the law as a weapon of war against Israel in the U.S.A. and abroad. The conference also established a defense organization: National Inter-Agency Task Force to secure Israel's rights and legitimacy. This deals with direct action to defend Israel and the Jewish people.

I asked Malcolm Hoenlein to assess the future of American Jewry. He is aware of the fact that at least 40% of the younger generation has been assimilating: "It is a great problem. We need more Jewish education and not an expensive one. We must work on the issue of Jewish identity. We can also challenge assimilation by sending our youths to visit Israel," said Hoenlein. Also, the Jewish birth rate is low. We should organize and integrate the Israelis who live here into the community. They are also a new potential Israeli lobby in this country.

What about Jewish philanthropy? In the older generation, when the fathers died, the young ones can easily integrate into the open society. They can be board members of various museums and charities so they can donate money to the general American organizations. "Do not forget that today it is easy to convert to Christianity. In the past, they did not want Jews!" said Hoenlein, who added that his life is dedicated to save Jews, as it is written. He who has saved one life is as though he has save the entire world!

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