Harold Tanner of Scarsdale, the immediate past president of the American Jewish Committee, became the surprise nominee to chair the major American Jewish umbrella organization after the nominating committee failed to reach a consensus on the four candidates first interviewed. Sources familiar with the process said that the seven-member nominating committee of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations reached out to Tanner and his supporters last Thursday and asked that his application be submitted after it deadlocked.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League whose organization is a member of the Presidents Conference, said he believes Tanner’s selection is a “good one” and that “he will serve the Jewish community well.” But he said he had been aware of only the initial four candidates and “all of a sudden a reporter from Israel calls me and asks what I think of the new candidate.”
“There is something wrong with the process,” Foxman said. “We should at least have been informed that the chairman of a sister organization was being considered. I shouldn’t hear about it from the press.”
But a former chairman of the conference and a member of the nominating committee, Lester Pollack, said such notification would make the process “too rigid.”
“The committee should have the flexibility to be able to reach out and ask someone if they would be considered,” he said. Mort Zuckerman, chairman of the nominating committee, said that as soon as the nominating committee chose Tanner, it notified all members of the Conference of Presidents.
“If Abe Foxman did not know about it, it is because he frankly is inactive in the conference,” Zuckerman said.The nomination of Tanner will be presented to the full conference, which represents 52 national Jewish organizations, at the beginning of May. Additional nominations from the floor may be submitted before a vote is taken.
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, president of Mercaz USA, the Conservative movement’s Zionist organization, said he was one of those interviewed and that he can “understand the need for deliberations behind closed doors.”
“It is not a popularity contest,” he said. Zuckerman said Tanner, 72, an investment banker who is the father of three and grandfather of eight who also has a home in Manhattan, was the unanimous choice of the nominating committee for the one-year position. He said the five candidates interviewed are “very talented people and all had different qualifications.” Tanner, he said, “is someone who invited gravitas, leadership and a lot of experience both nationally and internationally, and a real sense of commitment.”
Marsha Atkind, immediate past president of the National Council of Jewish Women and a member of the nominating committee, agreed that all the candidates were “terrific men who have made significant contributions to the Jewish community here and overseas.” But she said the committee believed that “at this particular point in time Mr. Tanner has the qualities we felt most comfortable with.” Atkind said Tanner was “the leader of a major Jewish organization until a year ago and is eminently qualified. His nomination did come in later than the others, but it was well within the normal period of time. I wouldn’t look at him as someone plucked out of the blue.”
Rabbi Perry Rank, president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly who also sat on the nominating committee, said: “Admittedly [Tanner’s application] was late, but it was not outside the process. We followed procedures. … We interviewed everyone who was nominated. They were all impressive.”
“We were looking for someone who is knowledgeable about the challenges that Israel must face in the upcoming months and years, and one who understands how the American Jewish community operates,” he said. “There is a sometimes delicate balance one must keep between our support of Israel and our own government. We were looking for someone who would command the respect of the diverse groups [in the Presidents’ Conference] in order to build consensus and at the same time have the respect of those who could not become a part of the consensus.”
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said he too was caught by surprise with Tanner’s nomination.
“How his name got into the mix I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t comment on the process. … He is a very good guy and I suspect the response to him will be very positive.”