Monday, July 12, 2010


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 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.



LisaB said...

As someone who lived in Israel for several years, married there and experienced first hand the abuse of religion for political power there I can tell you that you are dealing with a segment of the population that couldn't care less about a "strongly worded letter".

Years of unconditional support by the US Jewish community has led to an overblown sense of power that words won't change. What will change the attitude is the withholding of money and withholding of support for US government money and loan guarantees.

Frankly, we, the US Jewish community doesn't have the b*lls to pull it off. The Israelis who don't care what we think, do.

Anonymous said...

Silverman, through the power of his pulpit, single-handedly prevailed upon Netanyahu to kill the bill -- it will not reach the Knesset floor for a vote this session.

RWEX said...


I have been posting for 2 years 7 months. The Comment which follows is the single most hysterical Comment yet received.

paul jeser said...

This conversion bill is OUR fault - meaning us Jews in the Diaspora.

I can't 'prove' it, but it is an educated guess that almost all public criticism of Israel from Diaspora Jews comes from non-traditional (meaning everyone but Orthodox) Jews.

It is an educated guess that you can count the number of Rabbis on the JStreet 400 list who are Orthodox on one hand (or less).

It is an educated guess that the significant majority of American Jews who make aliyah are traditional Jews.

And the examples go on and on....

So, why should any leader in Israel really care about what the non-traditional community says. The non-traditional community does not have a voice nor any real clout in Israel - and deservedly so.

So, those of you who are complaining about this bill (and, btw, I agree - it is a horrible bill) please understand that for the most part, no one is going to listen to you.