William Daroff, 50, a centrist and key player in the Jewish community, based in Washington, is slated to be the next CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as of Jan. 1, 2020. Already, observers are wondering aloud if he might bring a moderating voice to the Jewish community’s largest umbrella organization.
Just a year ago, divisions in the Jewish community became news when three major Jewish organizations brought charges in the Presidents’ Conference against the Zionist Organization of America for inappropriately criticizing them. The ZOA in turn filed its own complaints against fellow member organizations.
And in 2014, J Street was barred from membership in the Presidents’ Conference after only 17 of the 51 member organizations voted to approve its membership; a two-thirds majority or 34 members were needed for approval. J Street had been accused by detractors of being overly critical of Israeli government decisions.
In a tweet Monday, J Street said: “Mazel tov @Daroff on your appointment as CEO of @Conf_of_Pres! At a time when our community is facing tremendous challenges, we look forward to continuing to work with you in this new role.” It said nothing about renewing its membership request.
Daroff will succeed Malcolm Hoenlein, who served as the professional head of the organization for 34 years. As chairpersons came and went every several years, he was the face and identity of the group. His close ties with presidents, prime ministers and heads of state were uniquely personal and will be difficult for any successor to duplicate.
Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said he does not know whether Daroff’s selection will change the Presidents’ Conference, which has been widely perceived as politically right of center and reflecting Hoenlein’s views, but he said Daroff is “highly respected across the spectrum.”
For the past 14 years, he has served as senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America. The nominating committee of the Presidents’ Conference selected him to succeed Malcolm Hoenlein in the top job, a move endorsed by the group’s executive council and to be voted upon by the membership next month.
Arthur Stark, chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, released a statement saying that the search for a successor to Hoenlein, who initiated the transition, was a lengthy one. He said Daroff’s “many years of advocacy and bridge building uniquely qualify him to follow in Malcolm’s footsteps.”
Sarna noted that Daroff “has dealt with a wide range of communities and donors spanning the broad spectrum. It is hard to imagine somebody who has better preparation to lead the Presidents’ Conference. My own hope is that … he will bring new energies and ideas and will allow the Presidents’ Conference to play an even more significant, albeit behind-the-scenes, role in American Jewish life.”
Hoenlein, 74, told The Jewish Week he would remain as executive vice chairman and become involved in “special projects” after the transition is complete.
“Our positions are balanced and we have an executive council that has been working effectively,” he said of the organization, which has a membership of 53 Jewish organizations. “The Conference walks a fine line and is the biggest umbrella organization in the Jewish community today.”
“I know him well,” Hoenlein said of Daroff. “They invited my input. … His name was on my list. He knows the issues and is very knowledgeable. He has a lot of experience in Washington and I will introduce him in Israel and elsewhere.”
Born in Miami Beach, Daroff studied history, political science and law, earning his B.A., M.A. and J.D. at Case Western University. He went on to work on three presidential campaigns, among them George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.
In a statement, Daroff said: “I am honored and humbled to be selected. … At such a challenging time in our community, I am awed by the broad strength and diversity of Jewish Americans. With all of our many accomplishments, moving forward there is also much work to be done together.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, AIPAC wrote: “Thank you Malcolm Hoenlein for your incredible leadership as CEO …. Mazel Tov to new CEO [William Daroff] as you take on these new responsibilities and lead the community from strength to strength.”