yaakov neeman 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman shocked a high-profile group of American
Jewish leaders last week when he strongly defended controversial
legislation and criticized them for not living in Israel.
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in the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) leadership mission to
Israel met with top Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers including
President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, Neeman, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser, Ron Dermer. The JCPA bills itself
as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community
in guaranteeing the safety and security of the State of Israel.
delegation was briefed by Neeman’s aides about his ministry’s efforts
to counter the delegitimization of Israel around the world.
conversation with Neeman at the Knesset on Wednesday was short but
ended with him raising his voice and scolding the Americans.
is no discrimination in any of the legislation,” Neeman told the group,
according to US Jewish leaders present, who were taking notes.
pressed specifically about proposed loyalty oaths, he said: “We will
have a majority of non-Jews if not. This is a Jewish state. If you don’t
like it, you can move to another country.”
The group asked
Neeman about an advertising campaign by the Immigrant Absorption
Ministry aimed at persuading Israelis living in the US to return home.
Netanyahu ordered the campaign canceled after it received harsh
criticism from American Jewish leaders and commentators, but Neeman
strongly defended the campaign.
“All Jews need to come home to
Israel,” he said. “I want them here. A Jew who doesn’t live here in
Israel is not doing the most important thing.”
When Neeman told
the group that the two issues that must unite Jews around the world were
belief in God and commitment to State of Israel, Chicago Board of
Rabbis executive director emeritus Ira Youdovin, who is Reform,
responded to him that “lots of Jews do not believe in God here in
Israel, and there are Jews who do not believe in a State of Israel here
Participants in the meeting said Neeman raised his
voice and said he “could not disagree more” with justification for Jews
not believing in God or being committed to Israel.
“Show me a
nation that still exists after 2,000 to 3,000 years that was exiled and
still exists that doesn’t believe in one nation,” he said. “We existed,
and we returned. It is due to the belief in God and that we returned to
He told the group that “the No. 1 danger” to Jews
was “not Iran, but assimilation.” He warned that the Jewish nation could
disappear as a result of assimilation, accomplishing what Adolf Hitler
did not achieve. As an example of the extent of assimilation in America,
Neeman said he spoke to a rabbi in San Francisco who told him that 95
percent of marriages in the Bay Area involving Jews were intermarriages.
Chairman Conrad Giles responded politely but critically, telling Neeman
“there will always be a Diaspora” and that “if positions of the State
of Israel will not allow all of us Jewish people to feel the same unity,
our concern is that our fellow Jews should not feel diminished.”
Youdovin responded more critically after the meeting, saying Neeman “has
an inaccurate perception of American Judaism” and calling the figure
the minister cited about intermarriage in San Francisco “preposterous
“Our group included leaders representing the diversity of American
Jewish life,” Youdovin said. “Many of us were shocked by some of the
statements Neeman made. Much of what he said was problematic and some of
it offended people.”
Youdovin said he was worried by Neeman’s “indifference to the fact that
those who work to counter assimilation look to Israel to exert a strong
“This is undermined by state-supported discrimination against the
non-Orthodox streams, which apparently is endorsed by the minister of
justice,” he said. “This raised concerns about the ability of top
Israeli officials to understand even their strongest supporters in the
Neeman declined to comment because he spoke in a closed-door meeting and
associates of Neeman said the statements were taken out of context.