JFNA responds to criticism on speakers at Israel at 75 General Assembly

The Jewish Federations of North America issued a letter Monday defending their choice of speakers at the Israel at 75 General Assembly, despite ongoing turmoil in the Jewish state. 

JFNA tour in Israel. (photo credit: EYAL VARSHAVSKI / JNFA)
JFNA tour in Israel.
(photo credit: EYAL VARSHAVSKI / JNFA)

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) have responded to the criticism towards them, from Jewish communities, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at the General Assembly (GA) in Tel Aviv this upcoming Sunday.

The criticism comes from individuals and groups that are against the judicial reforms that Netanyahu's government is promoting. In a statement by Julie Platt, chairperson and Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of JFNA, they explained that in letters that have been sent to the organization individuals "have specifically questioned the participation of Prime Minister Netanyahu and other leaders of the governing coalition due to their role in the very contentious debate about Israel’s judicial system. Some have even called for the Jewish Federations of North America to withdraw their invitation. We respectfully disagree."

"First and foremost, the opportunity to hear from Israel’s duly elected president and prime minister is a symbol of Israel's achievement as a modern democratic state. We look forward to welcoming these officials on this historic occasion," Platt and Fingerhut wrote. They added that they are "proud to welcome these important officials on this historic occasion and would do so with any individuals holding these positions."

Event will celebrate Jewish Investment in Israel

The event will celebrate nearly 100 years of global Jewish investment in establishing and supporting the development of the State of Israel. The event is jointly sponsored by JFNA, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization, and will include speeches by President Isaac Herzog,  Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid is scheduled to address the GA the following day.

Regarding the debate about the judiciary, they added that "we have shared our concerns with all the parties in Israel, including in an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. We called on the parties to negotiate and to compromise under the auspices of President Herzog." The two shared that as they arrived in Israel for the General Assembly, "we note that the Prime Minister’s negotiating team have been meeting in good faith with the opposition under President Herzog’s guidance for several weeks.  "While we cannot foresee the outcome of the negotiations, we commend all the political leaders who are participating directly and through their representatives."

 Police officers set up road closures in Tel Aviv ahead of the 13th consecutive week of judicial reform protests, April 1, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Police officers set up road closures in Tel Aviv ahead of the 13th consecutive week of judicial reform protests, April 1, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Platt and Fingerhut assured their constituents that JFNA "will do everything we can to ensure that our attendees and security professionals respect these protesters and expect that any protestors will respect our participants by demonstrating in a way that does not disrupt their ability to attend the event, participate, or listen to the speakers. The Jewish Federations of North America have approached the debate regarding the judiciary with the goal of helping to strengthen and preserve our beloved State of Israel and the connection between Israel and the Jewish communities we represent."

One of the letters was from UnXeptable, a worldwide grassroots movement led by Israeli expats "in support of a democratic and liberal Israel," and against the reforms. In their letter, they wrote that "we were saddened to learn that JFNA invited to the event’s main stage two of the main architects of the attack on Israel’s democracy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Member of Knesset Simcha Rothman, Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Both of these politicians initiated and relentlessly continue to promote the judicial overhaul. Despite a tactical pause, our time is running out. One week after the General Assembly, the Israeli Knesset will resume its work and the anti-democratic legislation is now at a point where within one meeting of the Knesset, Israel could lose its democratic foundation."

They, therefore, asked the leadership of JFNA "to revoke these invitations and not grant Netanyahu and Rothman access to our communal stage. As leaders of our communities here in North America, we ask you to take a stand and support the majority of Israelis, former leaders of Israel’s security and defense forces, and leaders from academia, the tech industry, and civil society organizations. PM Netanyahu and MK Rothman should not be allowed to use the 2023 JFNA General Assembly as a platform to incite against those who defend democracy or in order to parade false unity and pseudo-shared values. Our communal stage should not be used to legitimize or further advance the attacks on Israel’s democracy or on those fighting to defend it."