President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Eric Fingerhut is “not afraid” of the outcome of planned protests before and during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday, during the opening of the JFNA’s General Assembly in Tel Aviv, he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“Obviously we hope that the people who are coming to protest understand that the event that they're protesting is an event being held by an organization that is so deeply dedicated to the future of Israel and has been so deeply involved in everything that has happened and in the State of Israel,” he said.
Thousands of protesters are planning on surrounding Expo Tel Aviv where the conference is expected to take place, together with the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization. They will be protesting Netanyahu because of the proposed judicial reforms, even though their legislation has stopped and there are currently negotiations taking place at the President’s residence.
Senior officials in these organizations have met multiple times in the past few days in order to discuss possible outcomes of such a demonstration during their event. The assumption is that there may be a substantial number of participants in the event that may leave the room silently or turn their backs on the prime minister. Many messages have been sent to all of the national protest Whatsapp groups, calling for anti-judicial reform activists to demonstrate outside the Expo and even at the specific hotels in which most of the guests are staying in Tel Aviv.
“I hope the protesters understand how we have assisted the State of Israel for the past 100 years, even before that state was established. I hope that will factor into how they conduct themselves.”
He added that “every indication I have [from those planning to protest] has shown that type of respect and tone. Obviously, we know that whenever demonstrations happen, not everyone controls everything that happens in them. So we'll have appropriate security as well of course.”
This event is so sensitive, especially since the organizations hosting it, represent a huge percentage of diaspora Jews. JFNA represents millions of North American Jews, Keren Hayesod is active in the rest of the world, as well as the Jewish Agency. Many of this week’s delegates of the World Zionist Congress, hosted by the World Zionist Organization, will also participate in the opening ceremony in Tel Aviv. They represent all types of Jews from around the world, including a recent addition of a bulk of ultra-orthodox Jews.
What is the JFNA General Assembly?
The 2023 General Assembly hosted by JFNA will kick off this coming week with the participation of thousands of North American Jews. Held every year, The General Assembly is the most consequential gathering of the leadership of the North American Jewish community and brings together Jewish leaders of diverse backgrounds in a space that fosters productive dialogue and debate. This year’s event, which coincides with Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days, will focus on celebrating 75 years of connection and partnership between North American Jewry and the Jewish State. President Isaac Herzog will also speak at the Sunday evening event.
On Monday, participants will have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with a variety of Israeli and North American public officials, entrepreneurs and communal leaders on key issues facing the two communities. Speakers include Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, MK Simcha Rothman, MK Oded Forer, MK Idan Roll, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander and many others.
In addition to The General Assembly, 14 national missions with over 3,000 participants representing 74 Federation communities will be crisscrossing the country this coming week, as participants explore Israel’s natural beauty, social diversity and heritage sites in addition to Federation-funded projects to strengthen Israeli society and support vulnerable Israelis.
Many organizations have demanded JFNA cancel the participation of Netanyahu but its leadership wouldn’t budge.
Fingerhut shared that the Prime Minister was actually invited a year ago, regardless of who would be in this role.
“The elected prime minister of the State of Israel is part of the symbol of Israel's sovereignty and democracy at this historic time."Eric Fingerhut
“The elected prime minister of the State of Israel is part of the symbol of Israel's sovereignty and democracy at this historic time. So that's above politics and above any debate. The fact happens to be that we are now at a time when there's a very serious political divide. And the debate happening in Israel is unfortunate, but the Jewish Federations of North America have paid very close attention to this issue. We have communicated very directly with all the parties in person, in writing and via Zoom, what the impact of these issues would be on the Jewish communities in North America and also how we see the divisions that are happening in Israel, because we love and care for Israel so much.”
Fingerhut explained that JFNA, as a representative of American Jews, “advocated for all parties to participate in dialogue together and then when the President first came forward and offered his good auspices, we encouraged people to use the President's structure [for dialogue].”
“We are encouraged by the negotiations,” Fingerhut said adding that ‘“we recognize that there's a desire to continue to protest by many, even as those negotiations are going on. We will of course welcome their expressions of their political views. But we will also ask and frankly insist that they also respect the right of those who've come to hear the speakers and treat them with respect.
“I have to say that the letters we've received and the calls and the emails we've received have been very respectful. I'd like to think that we will be a model of dialogue and of ways to disagree respectfully, because as we all know, while the issues themselves are important to Jewish people, the ability to disagree and to work through challenges together is critical to our continued flourishing.”
Regarding Israel’s 75th anniversary, Fingerhut mentioned that “it's an extraordinary time,” and “we are enormously proud of the record of involvement and support in Jewish Federation's in both the birth and development of the State of Israel. We've been involved literally in everything that has happened here from building the infrastructure of the country, supporting aliyah and vulnerable citizens and helping build Israeli society into the inclusive, pluralistic society that it is every step of the way. 146 Jewish Federations across North America have been involved in Israeli society. We feel close to Israel; we are tied together by family, friends, business and relations of all kinds. We are part of the common global Jewish enterprise and are part of the 75th-anniversary celebrations since we played an important role in creating this miracle.”