A conservative National-Religious organization, Chotam, has opened up a fierce broadside against several liberal organizations from the National-Religious sector for accepting money from the New Israel Fund.
Chotam’s campaign includes a satirical animated video and a lengthy document highlighting the policies promoted and actions of these organizations, and accuses them of advocating positions at odds with religious-Zionism.
The group also released a video with statements from leading hardline National-Religious rabbis against taking money from the New Israel Fund.The NIF has become a bogeyman for the right-wing
due to its funding for, among others, left-wing organizations which advocate and work against Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and some groups which have adopted political campaigns against Israel.
Among the organizations’s being targeted are Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, Koleich and Mavoi Satum, which generally advocate for greater religious liberalism in Israel especially with regard to state-funded religious services and religious life in general, the status of women in religious society and divorce rights.
For their part, these organizations charged that Chotam is seeking to escape dealing with the substance of concerns and problems with Jewish religious life in Israel that they seek to tackle, and accused it of trying to demonize them by association with the New Israel Fund.
In its document, Chotam highlighted comments by NIF leaders seeking to boost moderate voices within the religious- Zionist community, and said that it was using them to advance its “radical pluralist agenda” within Israeli society.
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Chotam pointed specifically to the liberally-inclined religious- Zionist group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, which received close to $790,000 from the NIF over 11 years, and its agenda of pluralizing religious services.
It also criticized NTA for cooperating with the Reform Movement on certain issues, for supporting the Western Wall compromise solution for egalitarian prayer at the site, and for advocating for opening up kashrut supervision to competition.
Kolech, which received more than $1-million from the NIF from 2005 to 2016, was taken to task by Chotam for petitioning the High Court of Justice to obligate the state to allow for civil marriage, and for joining with the progressive Jewish denominations in Israel in a petition to the High Court demanding representation on the body that administers the Western Wall.
Chotam also denounced Mavoi Satum, which represents agunot in the rabbinical courts, and advocates for greater rights for women in divorce proceedings, and which received over $240,000 from the NIF between 2005 and 2016.
Chotam noted that Mavoi Satum advocates in particular for couples to marry in a religious ceremony outside of the Chief Rabbinate so that they will not be subject to the rabbinical courts should they seek to divorce in the future.
It also pointed out that Batya Kehana-Dror said in an interview in 2013 that couples should not marry in accordance with Jewish law “until a mechanism within Jewish law is found to dismantle a marriage in a way that does not depend on the husband.”
“For years, these organizations are working to implant ultra-liberal messages within the National-Religious community, when the overriding goal of the body that finances them is turning the State of Israel into a state of all its citizens and eradicating the Jewish character of the state,” said Chotam.
“We are saying ‘enough’ to the whitewashing of the NIF amongst the National-Religious community,” said Amital Bareli, director of Chotam.
“Organizations amongst us which fight against religious start-up communities, which are connected with the Reform Movement and with [pluralistic] Israel Be Free cannot enjoy immunity and define themselves as part of the National-Religious community.
Either they are with us or they’re against us,” he said.
Director of Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah Shmuel Shattach dismissed Chotam’s accusations as “demonization” and said that instead of talking about issues such as Shabbat in the public domain, civil marriage, kashrut where real problems of democracy and civil rights have been raised, the organization was trying to shut down debate.
He also noted that NIF’s funding for Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah constituted 13 percent of its total funding for 2018.
“They see more and more people in the religious-Zionist community who want to change the rabbinate, that’s what they’re afraid of and the way to attack this and to stop it is to attack us by our funding from the NIF,” Shattach told The Jerusalem Post.
“Chotam thinks that only they have the truth and when they see someone else who is religious and says something different, they don’t understand it and say it’s because of the funding they receive.
They cannot understand that I can be a friend to people on the right and on the left, that I can meet with haredim and Reform people, and that I can still have independent thought, and get money from different sources and not change my mind about what I believe.”
Kehana-Dror said in response that “Instead of truly dealing with the problems within the religious -Zionist community, in light of statistics regarding secularization and the phenomenon of radicalization, Chotam chose to incite the debate against an external factor that is easy to attack such as the NIF and liberal religious organizations.”
Kehana-Dror warned that failure to deal with modern challenges to Jewish life in Israel and organizations that “fly the banner of dogmatic thought” would bring about the “twilight” of religious-Zionism and not groups trying to deal with such challenges.
Kolech said in response that their goals and sources of funding were transparent “as opposed to Chotam” and that the “shrieks” regarding the NIF were a way for Chotam “to evade dealing with the issues themselves and to ignore the current problems of religion and state in Israel. "
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