Top US rabbi: Diaspora Jewry won't back Israeli politicians who lie to them anymore

Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement says suspension of Western Wall agreement, conversion law will have ramifications for Israel’s support in the US.

The Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem
Diaspora Jewry will no longer support politicians who lie to them, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, a senior member of the US Conservative movement, said on Wednesday.
She accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of doing only what it takes to stay in political power “for the next five minutes.”
Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)
In a withering attack on the government, Schonfeld said that the current crisis over the Western Wall and a controversial conversion law would have consequences for the support Israel gets in Washington, and was a new departure for Diaspora Jewry in which they will continue to support the people of Israel but distance themselves from politicians who fail to stand up for their interests.
Schonfeld is executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement and was a key figure in the Western Wall deal negotiations. She dismissed the idea of renewed negotiations for a revised deal proposed by the Prime Minister’s Office, saying that there is nothing to negotiate about.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Schonfeld said that although Diaspora Jewry’s attachment to Israel is still strong, the recent crisis had “decoupled” the government and politicians of Israel from the people of Israel.
She pointed to the declaration of the Chicago Jewish Federation president on Tuesday that any member of Knesset who votes in favor of the conversion bill will not be welcomed or hosted by them.
“This latest crisis has changed the Diaspora leadership. We’ve canceled meetings with the prime minister; Chicago has advanced this model. There will be many federations and Jewish organizations which won’t support such MKs and officials and won’t host them at their events,” said Schonfeld.
“We are still connected to our brothers and sisters in Israel, Diaspora Jewry will not give up their love for the people of Israel. But what we will no longer support are these politicians, and they have now been given full notice of this.”
The people the government has insulted, said Schonfeld, are the same people who lobbied for the State of Israel in Congress and with the president.
“There’s a notion that there’s this group of Reform and Conservative Jews who you can deride and insult all you want, and that there’s some other group called Israel’s base of American Jewish support that is part of American support [for Israel], and that those are two separate groups.
“Israel doesn’t seem to get that they’re the same group. But Israel’s base of support in the US at the very top levels are people for whom the Kotel and the conversion bill matter, and it not OK to lie to them.”
Schonfeld said she believes this message has now been delivered to the government, stating, “I heard it delivered.”
She was also scathing in her assessment of the motivations of the government and of Netanyahu, accusing him of failing to take difficult decisions due to political considerations and a desire to appease the haredi parties.
“The prime minister will do what he sees as beneficial for the next five minutes of his political life.... There’s no possible way that the prime minster and his officials can argue they’re acting in the best interests of the State of Israel,” she said. “They are betraying the citizens of the State of Israel in order to keep themselves in power for the next five minutes.”
Schonfeld added that by acceding to the demands of the haredi political parties on these issues, the government was doing tangible damage to Israel’s interests by distancing and offending Diaspora Jews and their leadership.
“Diaspora leaders are willing to exercise responsibility and sacrifice for the safety and well-being of the people of Israel. Even if it hurts our own vision and runs counter to our own positions, we are willing to sacrifice everything for the citizens of Israel, whereas the politicians here are willing to sacrifice the well-being of their citizens for their political interests.”
Addressing the declared desire of the Prime Minister’s Office to begin new negotiations with the progressive Jewish movements over prayer arrangements at the Western Wall, Schonfeld said that the blow to the credibility of the government means that it would be hard, if not impossible, to trust that any new arrangements would be honored.
“There’s nothing to negotiate. After reneging on a deal that took five years to negotiate, it’s clear that there’s no real negotiation here.”
The only way renegotiations might be reopened, she said, is if the terms of the deal are improved, not worsened, and include several of the key requests of the progressive Jewish movements that were taken off the table during the course of the nearly four years of dialogue. Those talks resulted in the January 2016 government resolution.
Addressing the conversion bill, Schonfeld said the legislation, which would revoke the current legal status enjoyed by non-Orthodox converts in Israel, was viewed “with the utmost severity” because of its influence on the extremely sensitive issue of who is a Jew.
The bill would also preemptively circumvent a likely ruling of the High Court of Justice that would grant the right of citizenship through the Law of Return to non-Orthodox converts.
“This bill would affect the Law of Return, it would put decisions over who can have Israeli citizenship in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox – and this can never happen,” said Schonfeld. “It is inconsistent with being a Jewish and democratic state, and it is a fundamental cornerstone issue.”
In a sign of the severe nature of the crisis between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, two of the most influential international Jewish organizations joined the fray and expressed their concern to Netanyahu about the possible erosion of support for Israel from the Diaspora.
The heads of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and of the World Jewish Congress both said that Netanyahu needs to resolve the crisis equitably in order to calm the situation. “It is imperative that the government move expeditiously to address this matter and come up with a resolution that is equitable to all, as you sought to do in the agreement that was reached before,” wrote Conference of Presidents chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.
“Given all the challenges facing Israel and American Jewry, this is a time when ahdut, unity, is more important than ever. A lack of unity could lead to an erosion of support, which has been identified by Israel’s National Security Council as a vital security asset for Israel,” they added.
The letter also asked that Netanyahu “convey the sense of urgency regarding this matter” to the cabinet “and all those in a position to help resolve this issue.”
WJC president Ronald S. Lauder expressed “grave concern” over the divisiveness within Jewish communities surrounding the controversy over the suspension of the Western Wall agreement. “As the president of the World Jewish Congress, I have received messages from leaders of Jewish communities around the world expressing deep concern about the current situation,” Lauder said.
“For many of these communities, praying at the Western Wall is a rite of passage, and they are understandably anxious that they will not be welcome there. I fervently hope that a resolution can be found in the interest of Jewish unity and in a spirit of mutual understanding.”