Big names cancel at GA: Bad luck or something else?

Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom bail on Jewish Federations of North America conference; "There’s been long decline in GA’s standing,” says official.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
November 8, 2011 02:18
2 minute read.
Silvan Shalom

silvan shalom 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

For decades the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly has drawn some of the highest-ranking politicians in the US and Israel. This year’s parley, however, which started in Denver on Sunday, has seen a wave of cancellations by big names begging the question: Is it just bad luck or something else?

“There were scheduling problems with the Rabin memorial in Israel on Wednesday,” explained Joe Berkofsky, JFNA’s spokesman. “Nonetheless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be here via video.”

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Netanyahu originally said he would attend in person then canceled. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom was supposed to fill in but he, too, bailed in the last minute.

There’s been a mill of rumors why the prime minister chose not to come. Some say he feels confident enough about his standing with American Jews to stay home. Others have postulated he remained in Israel because of the Iranian nuclear threat which has been in the news of late. Yet others say the low turnout of senior politicos this year is indicative of a decline in the federations’ clout.

“There’s been a long decline in the GA’s standing over the past decade or so,” said a senior Jewish official at GA, who asked not to be named. “Ten, twenty years ago everyone would be here. It just doesn’t have the appeal it used to have.”

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Berekofsky responded in general to the theory, citing the list of speakers participating in this year’s GA to back up his claim.

“I disagree we have no leaders: We have Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren, MK Shaul Mofaz and US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. So to say we have no leaders isn’t accurate. Do we have prime ministers or presidents? No, but if you look back not every GA had either a prime minister or president every time.”

William Daroff, the vice president of public policy and director of the JFNA Washington office, also disagreed. He pointed at last year’s GA attended by Netanyahu, Vice President Joe Biden and opposition leader Tzipi Livni as an indication that the federations had not lost its appeal.

“If we were having the conversation a year ago when we had those three figures then how would that be instructive of a decline?” he asked. “I know the role of the Jewish Federation of North America in Israel continues to be critical. Whether its social issues, religious issues, like conversion or combating Israel delegitimacy, the federations are front and center.”


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