When I Posted "VICTORY" -- A CORRECTION in the wake of Kathy Manning's ridiculous and uninformed announcement that "...the Jewish Federations of North America helped secure an important victory for the Jewish People..." in "winning" a six month moratorium in the Knesset consideration of the pending Conversion Bill, I did so having already read the articles in the Israeli press suggesting that the Bill's "sponsors" weren't going to abide the deal they made. The Board Chair could have done the same thing -- or, at the least, she could have consulted with JFNA-Israel or JAFI and learned what was already roiling in Jerusalem. She might have consulted with her President and CEO. But, no -- Manning was hell bent on claiming to JFNA the "victory" that was already proved to be ephemeral. The press release was not just ill-timed, it was wrong.
And the beat goes on. As JFNA's senior professionals visit federations, one of their short list of "collective achievements," proudly parroted, is that JFNA "stopped the Conversion Bill cold." Huh? And Jerry Silverman's energetic defense of Jewish unity and Peoplehood in the face of the destructive proposwed legislation elevated him to one of the Forward 50.
I guess this was a summer of euphoria. Since -- well, not so much. The Israeli Chief Rabbi accused Diaspora Jews of "coercing" the Government of Israel. The Sephardi Chief Rabbi attacked everyone opposed to the Bil but saved his special invective for the Reform and Conservative Rabbinate. Interior Ministry functionaries began harassing Israeli Jews demanding up to 4 generations of "proof" of matriarchal Jewish lineage to get a marriage license. The main sponsor of the legislation, MK David Rotem treated critics of the legislation to special public contempt. Gal Beckerman reported on August 13, in the Forward that "...Shas and UTJ refuse to cooperate in any way with any change to the Bill." Then, appalling in its content and portent, conversions conducted by the Orthodox Army Rabbinate have been retroactively annulled by the actions of the Attorney General. And, our advocacy is in hibernation while haredi leaders are telling us to "...just shut up, it's none of your business."
And it's worse -- the Haredi Rabbinate has announced (Ha'aretz, October 22, 2010) that it is essentially holding the conversion of 1,000's of soldiers in the IDF converted under Orthodox Raabbinate authority hostage to the passage of the Rotem Conversion Bill. It's ugly. And, we're silent.
Jewish Agency Executive Chair, Natan Sharansky, was delegated the responsibility to lead negotiations on the Bill's terms. At that time, JFNA, our organization you remember, backed away from the fray. Until an op-ed in JTA on September 8, penned by Jerry Silverman, JFNA was noticeably absent from the on-going pubic discussion leaving that to Sharansky and the heads of the Reform and Conservative Movements and those in favor of this very threatening legislation. In the meantime, JFNA would periodically distribute Briefings summarizing the work of others,
Unfortunately, Silverman didn't get it quite right. He wrote that "[F]or the first time in Israel's history, the bill would have given the haredi Orthodox-controlled Rabbinate authority over all conversions. It also would have required that all converts, including immigrants from North America accept halacha or Jewish law." What I am certain Jerry wished to add at the end was this "...halacha or Jewish law as interpreted by that very Rabbinate and only them."
And while the accusations fly from the ultra-Orthodox unabated, Jerry nicely expressed our "hope" that "...all parties will seek to avoid negative and hurtful rhetoric...building a table of dialogue around which we can all come together..." Uh, huh. Do we have a clue how to negotiate? And, anyway, JFNA is doing nothing for six months...that's Natan Sharansky's job. Got it?
Wrong, as well, of course, was JFNA's conclusion that with the declared six month moratorium, it could merely "sit back and await outcomes." I and others have been urging that JFNA get recognized lay and professional leaders to Israel for meetings with relevant Knesset members and Israeli thought leaders in a planful manner during this time -- men and women who would be fully versed in the consequences to the Diaspora-Israel relations if this legislation passes. I wrote my belief that a playbook can be found somewhere in the bowels of JFNA from "the last time." Nope, not with these leaders -- they have rewritten the book inserting a chapter on "sitting back and waiting" following a declaration of "victory."