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February 28, 2018 4:38 pm

Top US Jewish Leader Malcolm Hoenlein to Step Aside After Three Decades at Helm of Conference of Presidents

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CoP Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein presents Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a personalized New York Knicks basketball jersey in July 2010. Photo: Reuters / Mike Segar.

The US Jewish leader once described by the BBC as “the most influential private citizen in American foreign policy” is stepping aside from his position at the helm of one of the country’s top Jewish groups.

An email sent on Wednesday by Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Chairman Stephen M. Greenberg to member groups said that Malcolm Hoenlein — the CoP’s executive vice chairman since 1986 — was timing the change to coincide with the search for a new chairman.

“Malcolm will continue to serve the Conference as he has so effectively for more than three decades, as we seek an executive to assume responsibility for the Conference’s ongoing operations and activities,” the email stated. “Malcolm will then focus on external relations as well as plans to structure the Conference for the years ahead.”

In a phone call on Thursday, Hoenlein confirmed to The Algemeiner that he was “not leaving” the Conference. The move, however, was intended to put in place a “transition process to look for someone who can take over responsibility” for the CoP’s day-to-day activities.

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During 32 years at the top of the CoP, Hoenlein established himself in diplomatic circles as a trusted confidante of key US and Israeli officials, as well as an interlocutor with senior Arab representatives and an intermediary with such adversarial leaders as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

A regular interviewee of The Algemeiner, Hoenlein often spoke candidly of Israel’s enemies and opponents. “Going to the UN on ridiculous issues shows he’s not prepared to accept the existence of the Jewish state,” he said of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in November 2016. “To fight the Balfour Declaration, is that really where their resources should be going? To deny the existence of the Jewish temples and denigrate Christianity and Judaism, is that really where their efforts should be going? Or does it reflect the fact that not only is he not ready to discuss the future, he’s not even prepared to accept the past.”

In that same interview — on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s election victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — Hoenlein praised outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration for having “demonstrated its commitment to Israel in the military and security realms in many ways.”

“The American people are with Israel, Congress is with Israel,” he said.

Hoenlein has consistently warned against Iran’s growing military and political dominance in the Middle East, strongly criticizing attempts to depict Iran’s rulers as moderates and vocally backing sanctions against the Tehran regime over its nuclear program.

“[President Hassan] Rouhani is just a degree less radical,” Hoenlein said in a June 2017 interview. “Executions, human rights violations, expansion of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and perhaps its nuclear program, all have continued to increase under Rouhani. He may just dress up the policies better than [former President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and others did. And it’s still the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] who rules ultimately.”

Hoenlein has received awards and citations from several prestigious sources, including State of Israel Bonds for his “valiant and extraordinary service to Israel and the Jewish people,” and the Private Sector Initiative Award from President Ronald Reagan. He serves on the boards of several private sector companies.

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