US Jewish leaders see Edelstein as mediator

“We as American Jews believe we have a voice on issues of pluralism, and appreciate that the minister is prepared to take our message to the Knesset."

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
February 4, 2010 03:00
3 minute read.
Yuli Edelstein

yuli edelstein 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

WASHINGTON – Minister of [Diaspora Affairs] Yuli Edelstein received an earful from American Jewish leaders concerned about how Israel is treating non-Orthodox Jews during a trip this week to the US.

In his meetings with Jewish leaders, Edelstein acknowledged that there was a problem, alluding to the “sense of frustration” communicated to him, and pledged to raise the issue with the prime minister and cabinet. He raised the possibility of creating a government team that would be in touch with the leaders of the various movements and community in America to try and address problems.

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The US representatives particularly pointed to the arrests of Women at the Wall, the idea of segregated bus lines and recent protests in Jerusalem over Shabbat laws, according to participants.

“The issue is very complicated, but the fact that there is no immediate easy answer does not acquit us of seeking answers and see what we can do and how,” Edelstein said at a briefing with the Israeli press Tuesday afternoon, noting that there were strong constituencies in Israel who supported the current policies.

Even so, he said, “my cabinet colleagues and Knesset members must understand that there’s a sense of a problem in the dialogue” between American Jews and Israel.

“If they believe like I do that the community representatives, the activists in the communities, are cherished partners in everything connected to public relations and Israel’s image” as well as in other ways, he continued, “we must not ignore what they say.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, said he was “encouraged” by what he and other religious leaders heard from Edelstein in their meeting with him.

“I think everyone felt he was really open and responsive to the concerns we raised,” he added, warning that the current Israeli government threatened to alienate large swaths of American Jewry. “He came across as really wanting to do something to address these concerns.”

“We as American Jews believe that we have a voice on these issues of pluralism, and we appreciate that one of our voices – the Diaspora affairs minister – is prepared to take back [our message] to the Knesset and find some middle ground that will be acceptable to all parties,” said William Daroff, head of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.

One group that Edelstein did not plan to meet with on his trip was J Street, the controversial new self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby that has taken several positions at odds with Israeli policy and been held at a distance by the Israeli embassy and some elements of the current government.

“There is a very simple rule, if you want to call yourself a lobby for the State of Israel: You have to first of all remember that Israel is a democracy,” Edelstein said, meaning that pro-Israel groups must be willing to work with whatever government the Israeli public elects.

“I leave it as a question mark whether J Street says it is able to represent every government in Israel,” he concluded. “If they can’t be a lobby, they can call themselves young liberal Jews for whatever, for better Jewish communal life in the United States, and then we’ll speak with them.”

Prior to coming to Washington, he met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the occasion of the world body’s marking of the liberation of Auschwitz.

He told Ki-Moon that the atmosphere surrounding the Goldstone Report was most troubling. “Though I’m sure it wasn’t the intention, the atmosphere created by the Goldstone Report, and the legitimacy that all kind of Jew-haters and Israel-haters find in the descriptions of the Goldstone Report, is very dangerous,” he told him.


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