The mission of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is to lead, support, shape, coordinate and represent the Jewish community relations movement in order to advance the interests of the Jewish people, support Israel’s quest for peace and security, and promote a just American society and world.
The JCPA reflects a unique and inclusive partnership of national member agencies, local community relations councils and committees, and the federations of which they are a component part or affiliated agency. It convenes the “common table” around which member agencies, through an open, representative, inclusive and consensus-driven process, meet to identify issues, articulate positions, and develop strategies, programs, and approaches designed to advance the public affairs goals and objectives of the organized Jewish community. The work of the JCPA, especially in matters relating to democratic pluralism and social justice, reflects the profound Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, the repair of the world. It expresses the conviction of the organized Jewish community that it must be active in the effort to build a just society. The JCPA has the responsibility to enhance the capacity of member agencies to effectively pursue the public affairs agenda. This responsibility requires the JCPA to provide coordination, support, and guidance for public affairs initiatives undertaken by national and local member agencies, to advocate on behalf of the public affairs policies of the organized Jewish community, and to respond to those member-identified needs which strengthen their individual and collaborative capacity to advance the communal public affairs agenda.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) was formally established as the National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC) in 1944 by the Council of Jewish Federations (a precursor of today’s Jewish Federations of North America). Originally designed to be a coordinating body and the public affairs branch of the organized Jewish community, NCRAC later become the National Jewish Community Relations Council (NJCRAC), and in 1997 became the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
The JCPA has grown from its original founding members – 4 national organizations and 14 communities – to an umbrella of 16 national Jewish organizations and 125 local Jewish Community Relations Councils/Federations.
For more than 70 years, the JCPA has led the Jewish community on a variety of important issues and been at the forefront of some of the most important social movements in America. In its earliest days, NCRAC fought against racial and religious intolerance and employment discrimination and for fair election practices. NCRAC addressed religious education in schools and incidents of anti-Semitism, and as early 1947 released strong statements on the civil rights of all groups and individuals.
In the fifties, NCRAC addressed discrimination in housing and educational institutions, segregation, and the Israeli-Arab conflict, including the Arab boycott of Israel. NCRAC was also concerned with communism, but strongly supported the civil liberties of individuals and opposed discrimination based on political beliefs. NCRAC’s Arnold Aronson co-founded, with A. Philip Randolph and the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (now the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights) and served as president of The Leadership Conference Education Fund until 1998.
Beginning in 1960, NCRAC turned its attention to the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union and was leading American Jewish community efforts by the end of the decade. Issues such as civil rights, immigration, church-state separation, interfaith relations, education, discrimination in housing and employment, and Israel remained high on its priority list. Poverty in America also joined NCRAC’s agenda, and in 1964 NCRAC accepted an invitation to join the National Crusade Against Poverty.
In the 1970s, the newly-named National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) continued to weigh in on the aforementioned topics as well as addressing Catholic-Jewish relations, the Vietnam War, affirmative action, international terrorism, and the emergence of Jews for Jesus. Economic and social justice continued to be a high priority, as did Soviet Jewry, the Yom Kippur War and its after-effects, anti-Semitism in the U.S., and the Arab boycott.
The decade of the 1980s opened with challenges in the Middle East, including Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Saudi arms sales, and the 1982 Lebanon War. Advocacy for Soviet Jewry took center stage, in preparation for the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit of November 1985. Issues such as welfare reform, nominations to the Federal judiciary, race relations, interfaith relations, church-state separation, family planning and reproductive choice, economic equality for women, and Hispanic-Jewish relations, among others, all found their way to the NJCRAC agenda. NJCRAC also began to explore the AIDS crisis. In the fall of 1987, planning began for the historic December 6, 1987 mobilization for Soviet Jews, for which NJCRAC was front and center.
The nineties began with a NJCRAC call for support of foreign aid to Israel and, specifically, loan guarantees for Soviet Jewish resettlement in Israel. In 1990, NJCRAC also advocated strongly for the repeal of the U.N.’s “Zionism is Racism” resolution. With the Oslo Accords of 1993, the peace process took center stage on the NJCRAC agenda. NJCRAC added campus concerns to its agenda as well. 1993 saw the creation of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), a program still housed at the JCPA. On the domestic agenda were issues such as family and medical leave, civil rights, reproductive rights, housing, gun control, immigration, church-state separation, race relations, and hate crimes.
Although NJCRAC changed its name in 1997 to The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the agenda in the early 21st century remains true to its core values. At the top of its agenda are civil rights for all Americans, inclusion for Americans with disabilities, fair pay, gun violence, the environment, public education, poverty, immigration, and other key issues. On the international front, JCPA remains engaged with the U.S.-Israel relationship, the peace process, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, preventing genocide and ending human trafficking.
The JCPA continually adapts its agenda to the most important issues of the day. Post-9/11, Muslim-Jewish relations have risen on the agenda, and with the appearance of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Israel advocacy tops the priority list. In addition, in a highly polarized American society, the JCPA has introduced a campaign to promote civil discourse, with resources and programs available for communities to engage.
As we look to the future, JCPA is working on the most pressing issues of today. Task Forces include Criminal Justice reform and Race Relations, Israel and the Two State Solution, Muslim-Jewish Relations, Invigorating the Community Relations Field, and more.