Livni organizes Jewish identity mega-conference

Opposition leader: “Develop Israel as a Jewish, democratic state."

Livni 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Livni 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
At a time of deepening tension on matters of religion and state, who can bring top Israeli ultra-Orthodox, religious Zionist and Reform rabbis together at one conference, under one roof, in Jerusalem?
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, apparently.
The head of Kadima has organized the largest conference in years on religious identity, which will take place Thursday at the Knesset with more than 400 participants.
The list of speakers at the event includes haredi rabbis Mordechai Noygershal, Moshe Garelik, and Dudi Zilbershlag; religious Zionist rabbis Benny Lau, Yuval Cherlow, Micha Goodman and Shai Piron; reform rabbi Gilad Kariv; and the director-general of the Conservative Movement in Israel, attorney Yizhar Hess.
On panels moderated by professors from the capital’s Shalom Hartman Institute, the rabbis will discuss conversion, civil marriage, education, haredi-secular relations, and the Jewish character of the state.
“The attention of the leaders and the public naturally is devoted first and foremost to security and diplomatic issues, but the challenges related to the character of internal Israeli society are no less important,” Livni said. “We must work on developing the Zionist vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
“Success dealing with the challenges of civil and social issues will make the state better able to deal with its challenges on diplomatic and security issues.”
Livni has tried in recent weeks to develop Kadima’s platform on civil issues and matters of religion and state. While her associates said she made a point of attacking only haredi politicians and not the haredi public as a whole, her Kadima rival, MK Shaul Mofaz, has accused her of adopting an anti-religious agenda, due to the expected run for Knesset of popular journalist Yair Lapid, the son of the late Shinui leader Yosef Lapid.
A source close to Livni said the conference was proof that her goal was to safeguard the state’s Jewish identity rather than abdicate it.
Haredi MKs revealed this week that their dispute with Livni when they prevented her from forming a coalition in October 2008 was based on a misunderstanding. Livni’s associates had offered them a large amount of funding for their causes, but they were insulted by the sum because they thought it was the total budget for their pet issues in her potential government when it was actually the addition to what they were already getting. The lawmakers said they realized this only after she failed to build a coalition.
The United Torah Judaism faction called a press conference on Monday to protest the government’s facilitating the removal of ancient graves outside Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center to build a new emergency room protected from rockets.
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni compared the coalition to a cemetery and said the faction’s rabbis would have to make a decision about whether to remain in it.
“We are facing a dilemma,” UTJ faction chairman Menahem Eliezer Moses said. “On the one hand, we don’t want to support a government that slapped our party in the face. But on the other, we don’t want to give a prize to Tzipi Livni and Kadima that want to use this story for political gain.”