American-Jewish leader and Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman told The Jerusalem Post in an interview this weekend that he thinks Jewish organizations shouldn’t meet with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Why? “The [Bezalel] Smotrich’s, the [Itamar] Ben-Gvir’s don’t have any respect for Diaspora Jewry,” he said.
“The [Bezalel] Smotrich’s, the [Itamar] Ben-Gvir’s don’t have any respect for Diaspora Jewry.”Abe Foxman
Foxman said he also told Netanyahu: “If you continue in this way, you’re not going to have our support.”
Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and vice chairman of the board of trustees at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, said that while he continues “to be concerned with the political situation of the new government” – as he was two months ago when interviewed by the Post – he is, however, “encouraged by the broad response of Israeli society.”
The response of Israeli society to the new government is "encouraging"
In December he said that if “Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.” Foxman explained now that he is “encouraged,” since “there are constantly tens-of-thousands of [Israelis] in the streets of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Beersheba. You have lawyers, judges, journalists, economists, business leaders, teachers, even have haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and Likud [supporters] marching [against the proposed reforms].”
The demonstrations in Israel are “encouraging,” because, according to Foxman, “this doesn’t usually happen, this element of society that is speaking out. To see the totality of Israeli society deciding to stand up and speak.”
“In the past, scholars and pundits in Israel told American and Diaspora Jews to keep quiet. I don’t remember [this type of approach in] my 50 years [involved in Jewish organizations]. There are prominent pundits openly saying to Diaspora Jews: ‘Speak up, let’s hear your voices.’”
He shared that he sees “small signs of the response pulling back” on issues like the threats to stop government funding to Israel’s public broadcasting company (KAN) or banning the work on national infrastructure on Shabbat.
“MKs from the Likud said they would not support the [Arye] Deri Law,” he said. The bill would allow people who have been indicted to serve as ministers in the government. “The fact that Bibi feels the need, every day, to defend Israel abroad, in the US media, tells me that there is movement.”
He added that, in his opinion, “the American Jewish community has been respectful yet firm in its opposition, and has raised its voice of concern. The US government, in a restrained but firm statement, as well emphasized to Netanyahu that what links our two countries is democracy.”
Foxman said these developments are encouraging, even though, in the last few days, “Bibi has been tougher. He’s not bending at all. His response to President Isaac Herzog’s calls for unity and dialogue [about the judicial reform] essentially said ‘I’m not willing to freeze anything.’” Herzog also expressed concern over responses from Israeli companies and international finance organizations against the judicial reforms as they are, since “it will hurt average Israelis.”
ASKED ABOUT responses to the interview he gave the Post two months ago, Foxman said that he received “two types of responses.” The first came from “those from the right, like Mort Klein from the Zionist Organization of America” who called Foxman an “attack dog of the thought police,” as well as an editorial in The Jewish Press that read “Abe Foxman Just Threw Israel Under The Bus.”
Mostly though, he said he received “phone calls from people saying, ‘Thank you, Thank you for standing up and speaking out.’”
Foxman’s response to this was: “Don’t just say thank you. Speak out. It took a while” until that happened. “In the beginning, I was the lone voice. The thing is that I don’t represent anybody.”
But Foxman shared that he feels as if American Jews are not internalizing their role in this crisis. He quoted CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP) William Daroff, who said in an interview with the Post that he wished the Israeli government explained itself better. “While his [Daroff’s] voice was measured, I know it’s the first time in my recollection that the COP criticized Israel. It’s respectful, but I think the voices are out there.”