Jewish Agency body admits need for more women

"If they're planning the Jewish future and a segment is missing - then what kind of plans are they?"

DEBORAH E. LIPSTADT (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Jewish Agency convened three leading Jewish figures and two members of its Jewish People Policy Planning Institute Monday, amid criticism that body doesn't include enough women. Emory Professor Deborah Lipstadt, renowned for winning a libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving, Sunday night reiterated her recent comments that the JPPPI lacked women at its recent Wye brainstorming sessions for "decision-makers." "If they are planning the Jewish future and a segment is missing - there are no young people, no women - then what kind of plans are they?" she asked during a conversation with The Jerusalem Post following a World Jewish Congress-sponsored lecture on Holocaust denial and genocide. The Jewish Agency established the JPPPI four years ago as a think tank to help find answers to questions facing the Jewish People and to look toward the future. The organization tries to gather "the best Jewish minds in the world to engage in action-oriented policy planning." At the Jewish Agency Assembly currently taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, former US envoy to the Middle East and JPPPI chairman Dennis Ross, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler - a founding member of the group's board of directors - and Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein gathered Monday morning to share their assessments on the challenges confronting the Jewish community. Ross told the audience that when it comes to Israel's approach towards world Jewry, "There has to be greater sensitivity to the Diaspora, greater awareness." He also recommended introducing a system where Diaspora Jews are taken into account when the State of Israel makes decisions that affect them. He also stressed the importance of new development projects in the Negev and Galilee as a way of harnessing Jewish dedication to Israel, particularly, he said, "to make up for the kind of energy that might have been lost, especially among the settler community" following the withdrawal from Gaza. Cotler, after enumerating many of the threats to the Jewish people which have crystallized in the last year - including "state-sanctioned genocidal anti-Semitism" from the likes of Hamas and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - mentioned the need for Jews to conceive of themselves as an indigenous population. "We need to think of the Jews as a people, not just a group of autonomous individuals," he said "[but] as an aboriginal people who still inhabit the same land, embrace the same religion, worship the same God, study the same aboriginal Torah, speak the same aboriginal language - Hebrew - and bear the same aboriginal name - Israel - as it did 3,500 years ago." Hoenlein chided Jewish leaders and thinkers for largely ignoring the issue of globalization and how it will affect Jewish interests. "We're not going to be able to separate a domestic agenda from international issues," he said, calling for Jews to look to growing groups such as the Hispanic and Chinese populations in order to create coalitions. He added, though, that the Jews were "the first global people." A major aim of the JPPPI is to look ahead to identify trends of importance to Jews, and the brainstorming sessions alluded to by Lipstadt fall under the rubric of a JPPPI project called "Alternative Futures for the Jewish People 2025." Following the most recent Wye meeting on the topic, Lipstadt wrote an opinion piece for JTA criticizing the omission of female leaders such as Ruth Messinger, CEO of the American Jewish World Service, and Morlie Levin, CEO of Hadassah. JPPPI Director Avinoam Bar-Yosef said he regards the gender issue seriously and thinks measures need to be taken to rectify the current situation. "The board already decided to recommend more women to the board," he said in a telephone interview. "We were asked by the board today to look at this issue seriously and to bring more women into the sessions." He went on to explain the CEOs invited to the "decision-makers" session were invited based on previous policy planning cooperation with JPPPI. The organization can only bring in the top 15 people because any more would be too many people. "To our sorrow there were only two women [in that group]," he said. The topics discussed at the meetings covered action-oriented recommendations, looking at lessons from the past to prepare for the future. The sessions were also divided into sub-groups to discuss Jewish communities, the Jewish identity and issues in the international arena that affect Jews. Bar-Yosef wrote an opinion piece in JTA in which he defended the composition of the session. He said that the three-year-old institute is still in a start-up phase and needs to reflect the diversity in the Jewish community. He went on to list a number of women who were invited but could not attend. "Are these efforts enough? They're never enough," he wrote. "Gender equality is very important and we will continue to increase the presence of women at the institute. It won't be based on the fact that they're women, however, rather on their merits."