American Jewish Congress and American Jewish Committee to merge? Don't hold your breath
04/27/2010 - 19:22
James Besser

The Jerusalem Post is reporting merger talks between the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress.

Pardon me while I snort.

In 23 years on this beat, I can't tell you how many times I've written about rumors of a merger between these two groups that have sometimes quarreled over which has the right to be called "AJC." It's never amounted to much except talk.

People say it could be different this time around, with the Committee - which is coming to Washington next week for an annual meeting featuring Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as keynoters – doing better than most Jewish organizations in this difficult time for nonprofits and the Congress on life support after getting clobbered by Bernie Madoff, the recession and an aging membership.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine what the Congress has that the Committee might want, except for Marc Stern, who last I heard was acting co-director of the group but who in real life is probably the leading church-state legal analyst in the Jewish world.

The Congress' demise is a sad story. Back in the 1980s, the American Jewish Congress Washington office, headed by Markc (Sorry, Marc, shoulda known better) Pearl, was a major hub of progressive activism – sort of what the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is today, only more so (interestingly, the RAC's Mark Pelavin was Pearl's assistant back then).

What distinguished the AJ Congress was its intense involvement with a variety off liberal causes (“liberal” wasn't a dirty word back then, the way it is now) and it's preeminence on church-state matters.

Today, it often seems like just one more out-of-date Jewish group trying to avoid controversy on the domestic front and focusing instead on lashing out at Israel's detractors – not an unimportant function, maybe, but hardly something to distinguish it from so many others.

The Post reports “contacts are still in the initial stages, though Congress officials have been considering a merger for some time, according to sources.”

I'll just bet.

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I'm not a big-name philanthropist or macher, but perhaps if the Congress and Committee do merge, they can compromise by calling the new creature an American Jewish Union.

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