Our Prime Minister could not have been clearer in his words as he spoke before the GA (General Assembly) last year. Netanyahu declared “I will always ensure that all Jews - Reform, Conservative and Orthodox – feel at home in Israel.” Netanyahu has been aware of the queasiness that is seeping into the bellies of committed Diaspora Jewry regarding the increasing surrender to the blackmail of the Orthodox religious parties in the Knesset. He is certainly aware, even as I write these words, of the increasing alienation from Israel of Jewish students on campuses throughout the world. So he proposed a plan. He announced, during that speech on November 10, that he has plans that will lead to “strengthening Reform and Conservative communities within Israel.” Good news? I think so.
But let’s take a look at the reality.
Netanyahu has buried the Kotel agreement that would have created a space for alternative davening.
Netanyahu supported legislation to bypass a Supreme Court ruling that ruled that the public Mikvehs in Israel must be open to Jews of all denominations for the immersion of converts to Judaism.
The law that would have brought about the conscription of Haredim into the IDF has been overturned.
The numbers of full-time Yeshiva students who have declare Torah study to be their profession continues to rise as more and more funding is provided to support the families of these students.
Netanyahu announced the creation of a round-table to address the issues of religious pluralism. “This is a roundtable of the government of Israel in which the various streams of Judaism sit together side-by-side to discuss problems and, more importantly, to discuss solutions.” Such a round-table was created years ago but failed to accomplish anything meaningful as it met but a few times before fading away. This time? We still await any serous round-table meetings.
Now the situation grows ever darker. We learned yesterday of a plan to provide over sixty five million dollars to “strengthen Jewish identity and the connection with Israel” among university students around the world. Much of the money will come from the budget of the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs. Yet, most of it will be going to Habad and World Olami. Never heard of Olami? Well that is because they have done a fine job in creating an image of being an organization that caters to all Jews. The reality seems to be that they are a front for Aish HaTorah and other like-minded organization. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Habad nor against Aish. But why is the government of Israel investing in these groups? Any why, if they feel this to be a worthy mission for the state of Israel, have they excluded Masorti/Conservative and Reform college organizations that are struggling? Israel will now fund Orthodox organizations in the States that reach but a limited part of the student communities while continuing to ignore the student organizations of other denominations. This is a very dangerous approach. Is it a matter of simple bias or is there a far deeper issue? Can it be that those in charge of the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs do not grasp the complexity of today’s Jewish world? I am afraid we are now seeing the distorted preference for all things Orthodox being exported to the Diaspora communities.
Naftali Benett, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stated “All Jews are Jews. Whether Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, haredi or secular. And Israel is their home. Period.” He later added, “All Jews need to know that they have a share in the Kotel, whoever they are. We can be unified even though we disagree.” It seems that all Jews may have a home in Israel but investment will be largely limited to those who find their home in the Orthodox denomination.
But should this be any wonder when the Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, calls the Reform movement “an existential threat to the Jewish people.”
Even the World Zionist Organization is on the verge of agreeing to serve as a conduit for the Ministry of Religions to fund Orthodox rabbis and their activities in North America and elsewhere to the tune of millions of dollars.
The Israeli government must decide if it is right to take sides in this struggle. Will they support those who advocate avoiding military service as these “students of Torah” suck on the teat of government handouts? Will they support those with dubious Zionist commitments?
My words have little significance if they are not part of a greater call to action. MK Litzman, Minister of Health, stated, “Bibi will always choose the Haredim in Israel over the Reform abroad.” He is right. Unless Netanyahu feels the pressure from those of us who feel the current leadership in Israel is steering the State in the wrong direction – he will continue to snub the non-Orthodox Jews.
MK Nachman Shai, who heads the Caucus to Strengthen the Jewish People, showed his own displeasure over the recent trends. "Without public debate, without transparency, hidden and in secret, the Israeli government would throw tens of millions from the state budget for the dubious and controversial project of fostering Jewish identity in the Diaspora…Bibi's handing out sweets.”
The real problem is that handing out sweets comes at a price. That price is just too steep.