Tiburon lawyer to head national AJCommittee

Richard Sideman never intended to get his name in the papers — let alone a whole article. After all, the “quiet diplomacy” and behind-the-scenes element is what attracted him to the American Jewish Committee in the first place.

But when you’re elected president of an international Jewish organization you get an article in the local Jewish paper. That’s the deal.

So this is the story.

Sideman, an attorney who practices in San Francisco and resides in Tiburon, ascended to the pinnacle of the organization at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. During his three-year term, he plans to continue those activities the agency has done for a long time — starting with answering the existential question, “Just what do you guys do, anyway?”

“The AJCommittee acts, really, as an ambassador for Jews. Our concern is for the well-being of Jews both in the United States or abroad,” explained Sideman, who joined in 1982.

The organization has offices overseas in 24 nations, and meets with countless foreign leaders each year during the U.N. General Assembly. It meets with foreign ministers in Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. And members of its 32 U.S. offices often meet with members of Congress, the Senate or the administration.

And the No. 1 aspect of those discussions: Confidentiality. What happens with the AJCommittee stays with the AJCommittee.

When it comes to finding the ear of the U.S. government, “foreign governments know we can do that — and do that quietly.”

Sideman, a native Chicagoan, moved to the Bay Area in 1972. He is a partner at Sideman & Bancroft specializing in, as he calls it, “tax controversies,” and, for a dozen years prior to founding his firm in 1978, he served as trial attorney in the Department of Justice Tax Division and as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Tax Division of the Office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California.

He and his family belong to Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Domestically, Sideman points out that the AJCommittee continues to advocate for other religious and racial groups — it led a push for Japanese American reparations, for example — and involves itself in the struggle to keep church and state separate and combat anti-Israel activities on American campuses.

Sideman plans on continuing all those tasks, along with the normal fare of the president of a large nonprofit (read: fundraising). But don’t be surprised if you don’t read about every last endeavor. Newspaper stories, you know, are not exactly the AJCommittee’s style.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.