US tycoon suspends funds for Israel over Kotel, conversion issues

Fallout likely to have further impact on Jewish funds to Israel.

The Robinson's Arch area of the Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Robinson's Arch area of the Western Wall
Major US Jewish philanthropist Isaac “Ike” Fisher has suspended his financial support of Israel in light of two explosive government decisions last week that have upset liberal Jews around the world.
US-born MK Michael Oren confirmed to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday a report in Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, that Fisher had sent him a letter informing him of a series of measures he is taking to protest the government’s decision to backtrack on an agreement for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, and another on conversion.
These steps include canceling a $1 million investment in Israel bonds; suspending fund-raising activities; and suspending his involvement in AIPAC.
Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)
Oren himself told the Post last week that he was furious about the decisions, and would vote in the Knesset against the decision to grant the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over conversion, even if it meant being fired from his post as a deputy minister.
This has not yet been necessary because, on Friday, a deal was reached to freeze the conversion legislation while a special task force is created to find a solution amenable to both sides.
In an email obtained by the Post on Sunday, Fisher thanked Oren for his support for Diaspora Jewry over these issues.
“As you know, I actively support the State of Israel, however my support is suspended till the Government of Israel reverses course,” he wrote.
“Last week, I purchased $1m. of Israel Bonds. That support is suspended. I am the incoming Campaign Chair of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. I have advised them my work is suspended unless Israel reverses course. I am a National Board member of AIPAC. That work, too, is suspended. I sit on the Board of American Friends of Tel Aviv University. I have advised them that my financial support is suspended,” Fisher stated.
“Enough is enough,” he concluded. “It is time for the Government of Israel to understand that its constituency includes Am Yisrael.”
Oren told the Post he was “very saddened” by what Fisher wrote, but that “Israelis have to hear it.”
“I don’t think there is appreciation of the depth of hurt and alienation that liberal North American Jews feel toward Israel now, and this was a last straw for many,” the MK said.
Oren does not see this issue disappearing anytime soon, nor is it likely that Fisher is the only Jewish figure who will take concrete action to protest the government decisions.
“I’ve heard from several major philanthropists that they were crestfallen, disappointed, hurt and they were certain it would have impact on Diaspora giving [to Israel]” Oren said, though he was not at liberty to reveal any other names.
While reactions might be expressed via financial avenues, Oren stressed that this is not about money, but about the concept of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
“I agree with this,” he said. “The state of the Jewish people is not just about Jewish people living in Israel. We demand that the Palestinians recognize us as such so we should be the nation state of the Jewish people.”