Last March, when JFNA first dipped its toe into the critical issue of potential changes to Israel's Law of Return, it aggressively attacked proposed changes being led by ultra-Orthodox elements in Israel by sending a "strong letter" to the Prime Minister demanding continuing consultation on the subject. At the time I suggested, based on past experience, that good sense called out to JFNA to immediately organize federation lay and professional leadership for direct talks in Israel organized with the Jewish Agency to focus Knesset members on the global controversy they would create by weakening the bond between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Nothing happened.
The legislation's sponsor, MK David Rotem, visited with JFNA in the States and, quite clearly, was never listening to what our leaders had to say. Yesterday, in a message to his staff and Federation CEOs but not to you, Jerry Silverman expressed his shock and dismay that no further discussions took place and that Rotem would be introducing his Bill today with proposed devastating changes to the Israeli laws pertaining to conversions that would vest all determinations of conversions' validity in the Chief Rabbinate who would be allowed to define, in his discretion, a qualifying conversion. JFNA sent another "strong letter." (And, it was a good letter, indeed.) On Sunday, the matter was already discussed in the Israeli media. Sharansky publicly deried the Bill as "...stupidity." JFNA sent its "strong letter." Today, JAFI issued a strong public statement; JFNA still has not gone beyond its Memo to Federation Executives...it hasn't even alerted its own Board members...but Silverman did express "deep shock and disappointment" that the Bill would be introduced "without input" in Haaretz. Consider this Post the "trickle down."
To his credit, Jerry was working with Becky Caspi, his Israel and Overseas chief pro, and Natan Sharansky to influence Rotem not to introduce this bill. That didn't work. The Bill was introduced and had its first reading and, as reported this morning in The Jerusalem Post, the Prime Minister has assured that the Bill "won't pass." Rotem has promised undefined "changes" at second or third reading on the legislation but he is clearly in the pocket of the Chief Rabbinate. Jerry promised that he, Becky and Natan would attend the Knesset Law Committee meeting today. They did. Not comforting.
A question: Is it wrong to ask that for the multi-million dollar annual "investment" we make through JFNA's Israel & Overseas activities ($4.5 million) that there be advance intelligence on an issue as critical to our Streams and to us than one day in advance? A suggestion: It is JFNA Washington that has demonstrated its ability to mobilize our federations on domestic legislative issues. Let's use that ability to now mobilize our federations to create a continuing presence in Jerusalem in the halls of the Knesset and in the Prime Minister's Office to make it clear that the conversion issue is an Israeli-Diaspora issue of overriding importance. And JAFI must mobilize the Streams.
Or, we can just send another "strong letter" and wring our hands.