Dozens of protesters against the judicial overhaul disrupted a panel at the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly on Monday in Tel Aviv.
Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, spoke about the amendment of the Law of Return and the judicial reforms. The protesters prevented him from speaking at times.
The General Assembly is taking place in Tel Aviv in honor of Israel’s 75th Independence Day.
Israeli protesters were joined by members of Jewish federations in the US and Canada.
“You’re ruining our country,” one protester yelled.
The demonstrators were asked to leave, but they refused and were eventually forced to do so.
Understanding concerns of Diaspora Jews
“Whenever someone calls me, asking me to speak with them, I come to talk,” Rothman said. “We don’t always have to agree. Unfortunately, some people do not believe in dialogue.”
Regarding the question of who is a Jew, he said: “This is a very simple question. I want to differentiate between a Jew in terms of religion and a Jew in terms of eligibility for aliyah. It’s not the same thing.
“The law says who is a Jew, regarding who can immigrate and who is a grandson [who can immigrate].... The interesting fact is that the law says that a Jew who becomes a Christian or a Muslim is not a Jew and cannot immigrate, but a grandson [of a Jew] who is Christian can immigrate, and that’s a problem. Someone who converts out of Judaism can’t make aliyah, but his grandson can?”
Regarding the protesters, Rothman said: “What we see here is exactly the problem: people who shout ‘democracy’ and want to silence the others. They choose who will be Jewish, who will enter the country and more.”
Regarding how changing the Law of Return would affect American Jewry, he said: “It has zero effect on people who are making aliyah from the US. None of them are making aliyah as a grandchild of a Jew.”
Regarding immigration from the Former Soviet Union states, Rothman said: “There are about 70% who are not Jewish according to Jewish Law, and most of them made aliyah according to the Grandchild Clause. Most of them come, take a passport and go to other countries.
“The details need to be explained. They are trying to separate the Jews of the USA and Israel, and we will find a solution between us.”
A senior JFNA member told The Jerusalem Post the protesters had “lost some of their support” from members of Jewish federations who truly wished to listen, even though they disagreed with the MK.During the panel discussion, Alex Rif, CEO of One Million Lobby, which advocates for a better social, economic and cultural reality for the 1.2 million Russian-speaking Israelis, said: “You must not touch the Grandchild Clause because it means telling the 400,000 Russian-speaking Israelis who are not Jews according to the Halacha, and also the huge influx that is arriving at the moment, that they do not belong here. We need to bring the Jewish people closer to Judaism. We must work together.” Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner said: “This is an answer that concerns who we are – Jews by religion or by nationality. We have a connection to Judaism as a nation; it is our basis as a state and a people.“This is what [David] Ben-Gurion said, defining Judaism according to nationality. Historically, in the State of Israel, we knew that there was a difference between Judaism according to Halacha and who can immigrate to Israel according to the definition of Judaism.”“The reason we are talking about this issue is because for the first time, the government wants to limit entry to Israel in a period of rising antisemitism and in a situation where non-Zionist rabbis determine who will enter Israel and who will not,” he said. “For the first time in its history, the country has to decide whether we are a country of all Jews or only of a certain type of Judaism. If there is such a change, I am not sure that on the 80th Independence Day of Israel, JFNA’s GA will take place in Israel, because some of them would not come here. If this law passes, it will be the destruction of a basic element of the State of Israel.”Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday said the Israeli government would be democratically replaced.“Don’t give up on us,” he told the 2,000 American Jews in the audience at the JFNA GA meeting. “It’s great to be here, unlike others,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had canceled his participation in the conference on Sunday.“I know you’re worried,” Lapid said. “I know you’re nervous. I know you might even be angry. I’m worried too. The reason we’re worried or angry or nervous or even scared is because we care, because we love this place, because we want our children to feel connected to it, because we want them to know Israel is always a home for them and a home for every Jew wherever he or she lives.”“I know how many people here feel about this government,” he said. “I know it doesn’t represent your values. It doesn’t represent mine either. But this government isn’t all of Israel. These past months we have seen the strength of Israeli democracy. We have seen the deep democratic instinct of Israeli society.
“The protests have been patriotic. The protesters wrapped themselves in the blue and white flag of Israel. They sang our national anthem. They stood for a minute of silence to remember the victims of the terrorism we still face.“We need to replace the judicial overhaul with a constitution for Israel, based on the values of our Declaration of Independence,” Lapid said, receiving applause from a majority of the audience.“I’ll do my best to do this with diligence and dignity. This government was democratically elected, and it will be democratically replaced,” he said to renewed applause. “That is the nature of democracy. Governments come and go; the State of Israel is here to stay. The people of Israel are here to stay.”“Today, maybe more than ever, we need you to rally around us, to stand with us,” he added. “Remind your communities of that call in the Declaration of Independence. Remind them that their bond isn’t with the government of Israel but [with] the State of Israel and the people of Israel. Remind them that we’re still a family. Remind them that we should never let anyone break that bond – from outside or from within.“And don’t let them forget the threats we face. They are as serious and dangerous as ever,” Lapid said.
“Remind your communities of that call in the Declaration of Independence. Remind them that their bond isn’t with the government of Israel but [with] the State of Israel and the people of Israel. Remind them that we’re still a family. Remind them that we should never let anyone break that bond – from outside or from within."Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid