Just days after AIPAC, Israel’s close ally within American Jewry, denounced Netanyahu’s cooperation with the far-right Otzma Yehudit and called the party “racist and reprehensible”, a new crisis has surfaced.
The trouble started when Hillel Newman, a Foreign Ministry official, sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Consulate in New York, asking them to contact the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a Reform rabbinical leadership organization, in an attempt to incorporate Israeli diplomats and Israel-related content in their upcoming convention in Cincinnati.
The letter lamented the deterioration of Israel’s relationship with the Reform Movement, the largest Jewish denomination in the US, saying the future conference would not touch upon any Israel-related issues, and that no Israeli representative was invited.
But soon after it was released, Reform leaders slammed the ministry, accusing it of lying and stating that dozens of Israeli Reform Rabbis would be taking part in the conference.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, said the claims were “no less than scandalous.”
“Under the pretext of honest concern about Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, the Reform Movement in North America is being slandered,” Kariv said. “The convention, which will take place (at the end of the) month, will include dozens of Israeli Reform Rabbis and many of the meetings will address strengthening the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
“This will take place alongside the struggle against the ugly and destructive discrimination of the Reform Movement in Israel,” said Kariv.
Foreign Ministry officials have claimed the Reform Movement is angry with Israel and recent political events, especially in light of the agreement brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu between Jewish Home and the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, and have thus chosen to exclude Israel from the convention.
“Israel is becoming solely the domain of the American right-wing and religious sectors,” said ministry officials. “Jewish organizations feel as if they are perceived as ATMs. The AIPAC criticism over Otzma Yehudit is a part of this trend. Israel actually has to beg Jewish organizations not to sideline it; it’s becoming embarrassing.”
Kariv, however, said the ministry’s statement was untrue, and sought to lessen the connection between non-Othrodox streams of Judaism and the Jewish state.
“Israeli diplomats are regularly invited to Reform conventions and to Reform communities around the globe. If the man who initiated this statement fears for the future of Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, he should start by addressing the Israeli policy against the non-Orthodox denominations in recent years, instead of slandering the Reform Movement.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in North America, recently met with Israeli politicial figures, alongside Israeli Reform leaders. The Reform officials said they initiated the meeting in order to voice their concern over the growing rift between Israel and the Diaspora.
“I met with Israeli leaders from all political sides,” said Jacobs. “We’ve discussed an option to heal relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, and about our shared vision of a Jewish, democratic and tolerant Israel.”
Kariv called for the rift to top the agenda for the Israeli government after the upcoming elections. “Restoring this connection, which was severely damaged in recent years, has to be one of the important subjects our next government deals with,” he said.
A recent survey about the growing rift between the world’s two largest Jewish communities (Israel and the US), came up with interesting, but somewhat worrying, results. Apparently, some 50 percent of Israelis still consider Israel’s relationship with US Jewry as positive, while only 7% defined it as poor. A somewhat embarrassing result, however, shows that 34% of Israelis consider American Jewry to be a financial asset for the country, first and foremost.
Shira Ruderman, CEO of the Ruderman Family Foundation that ordered the survey, said it clearly shows Israelis understand the importance the relationship with the Diaspora. “We are heading for elections, and it's evident that when it comes to the Israeli relationship with American Jewry there’s no right or left — 95% answered it is important to preserve this relationship,” Ruderman said.
“Furthermore, some 90% understand that the American Jewish community is a strategic asset for Israel — in the realms of security, economy, but also in the realms of morals and good values,” Ruderman added.
“It’s important to raise this issue now, before the elections. Those who ask for the public's vote have to present their stance regarding Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora,” she said.