Israel, Diaspora at brink of serious rift, US Jewish leader warns

"If we are one family you need to know that the actions of the [Israeli] government over the last couple of weeks feel like a betrayal."

July 11, 2017 16:00
2 minute read.
Jewish kippa

A member of the Jewish community wears a kippa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A top US Conservative rabbi urged MKs Monday to understand the precarious situation of the Jewish people in light of recent clashes between the Diaspora and Israel over issues of religious pluralism.

Speaking at a meeting hosted by the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee about Israel’s image and its influence on the Diaspora, Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, stressed that while he has been to the Knesset many times before, this time was different.

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The meeting came two weeks after two explosive decisions by the Israeli government, one to advance legislation that would give the Chief Rabbinate a total monopoly over Jewish conversion in Israel, and another to indefinitely freeze the agreement for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

“Any of these alone would have been enough to anger the Diaspora community but both of them together... the only way we could possibly have understood what’s happening here in Israel is that we’re being sent a message of disrespect and delegitimization of Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people],” Wernick said.
Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)

“If we are one family you need to know that the actions of the government over the last couple of weeks feel like a betrayal, and that betrayal feels like abandonment,” he continued, stressing that 90% of world Jewry is either in Israel of the US, which have roughly equal Jewish population.

“The future of Klal Yisrael is absolutely dependent on the success of both communities and their ability to be successful together and to build bridges rather than wedges,” he said.

“One cannot thrive without the other.”

MK Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union said Israel’s enemies “know very well how to use against us our discrimination against Reform Jews.” She gave an example of an American Reform youth she knows in the US, who has been told during a debate over BDS, “You’re not even Jewish – you’re not considered Jewish there [in Israel.]” “I propose we unite the forces, there is no alternative. The struggle should not continue in the communities themselves.

It’s not just the Western Wall or conversion, the problems are wide and together we have to come close to the Jewish vision,” she said.

Committee chairman Avraham Neguise (Likud) stressed that every Jew belongs to the Jewish people, but indicated that the disagreements among them should not be aired in public.

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