Monday, July 3, 2017


Debate is raging about the best approach, if any, to the Prime Minister's actions or failure to act with regard to the breach of agreement implementing an egalitarian prayer space at (or near) the Kotel and the Cabinet's approval of an Ultra-Orthodox move to amend the Law Of Return. Do we take the position of Minister of the Diaspora Naftali Bennett or in the screed of Caroline Glick asking "what's all the fuss about? Nothing's changed." Or do we react as did a Miami Federation leader and "major contributor" who "suspended" his purchase of Israel Bonds and contributions to Federation in reaction to Netanyahu's actions; or as the new Chair of the Jewish Agency Board who called for a reevaluation of the JAFI/GOI "relationship;" or as the dean of federation execs who asserted that any Knesset members voting for the Conversion Bill would no longer be welcome in his community? 

I would suggest that the analysis provided by commentator Jonathan Tobin,, represents the most incisive. But of all of the observations, I found most relevant that of Nachman Shai, Knesset member, former Director General of the JFNA Israel Office, when it actual provided a service to our federation, who wrote in The Jerusalem Post:



 JUNE 29, 2017 22:25

In politics, everyone talks in “political speak.” I expect that a storm will erupt if future discourse is carried out in this tone.

American Jews
An American Jew wearing a kippa embroidered with the US and Israeli flags attends a Hanukka reception at the White House last year. (photo credit:REUTERS)
There is no more accurate barometer with which to measure Israel-US relations than AIPAC. This veteran pro-Israel lobby, which is so skilled and influential in American politics, immediately felt that the Israeli cabinet decisions taken earlier this week were tantamount to an earthquake, and could upend the Israel-US Jewish community/US Congress relationship.

AIPAC leaders rushed to Israel on Wednesday night for a round of meetings in an effort to put an end to the avalanche.
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On Tuesday night, the members of the Jewish Agency for Israel's Board of Governors all left Israel. They dispersed quietly following 48 hours of stormy deliberations – perhaps the stormiest the veteran organization has ever experienced, since they touched on the most sensitive topic: the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.

The drama that developed following the government decisions regarding the Kotel and conversions came to a head at the board meeting, and pushed this conflict, which poses a real challenge for this relationship, up out of the shadows and into the sunlight. We cannot run away from these issues any longer.

The government's decisions, which had been taken two days earlier and had come as a strange and ill timed surprise, were shocking news for Jewish Agency officials, most of whom live outside of Israel. World Jewry is very sensitive about both the Kotel and conversion issues, and has been heavily involved in negotiations with the government. In fact, some of the matters have already reached the Supreme Court.

It's inconceivable that these decisions were made quickly and secretly without first informing the Jewish Agency or the Jewish world at large. The Board of Governors’ angry reaction, the cancellation of the dinner with the prime minister, and the public campaign in the media in protest of these decisions, were the last thing the prime minister needed these days.

All the parties in the government coalition are squeezing Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to extract as much juice as they can, and the volume keeps growing. Coalition crises are a daily occurrence, but this time Diaspora Jews were the ones who ended up paying the price for the coalition to remain intact and survive. Generally, the leaders of world Jewry ignore internal Knesset squabbles. They usually say – and justifiably so – that any democratically elected Israeli government is acceptable to them. But it is okay, and even desirable, that world Jewry be invited to voice its disagreement with certain decisions.

The sentiments that were expressed by world Jewry leaders, by the way, were unprecedented in their intensity. One suggested that they reevaluate their relationship with the government, while another proposed a full boycott and the cutting off all monetary contributions to Israel. Israeli consulates in the US were inundated with angry reactions, and the Foreign Ministry tried, in vain, to minimize the damage. From meetings I held with Jewish leaders – especially the fascinating discussion with the Knesset Caucus for US-Israeli Relations, which I head, and which 25 MKs from a number of political parties attended, it became clear just how disastrous the cabinet decisions had been.

Even the MKs from the coalition were having a hard time accepting the government decisions. The guests from abroad, including the heads of the Reform and Conservative movements, did not try to hide their anger and frustration. Regarding the Kotel controversy, for example, they had already compromised by agreeing to the earlier cabinet decision, and then Israel threw the agreement away. Regarding the conversion controversy, a compromise had finally been reached that was acceptable to world Jewry, but then the government reneged on that promise, too.

Israel takes Diaspora Jews for granted. They are expected to be supportive at all times and during every crisis. They are involved in our decisions every single day of the year, and Israelis are confident that Diaspora Jews will always have our back and be at the ready to offer Israel political, economic and cultural assistance. There will always be influential Jews around the world who wield power in their local communities.

And what about the generous contributions – billions of dollars every year – these Jews make to Israel, both communally and individually? I have yet to hear of them being given something in return.

The portentous events that took place this week are a clear reminder of the imbalance between the two largest Jewish communities in the world: Israel and the US. It was the prime minister who once said, “You don’t give without receiving in return.” Another time he said, “If they want it, they’ll get it. If they don’t want it, they won’t get it.” It’s clear that the prime minister understands the situation, and the time has come for world Jewry to understand it, too. The State of Israel wants and needs their help – all the time.

Therefore, they are entitled to express their views and be involved in Israeli affairs. Granted, regarding questions of war and peace, the Israeli public should have exclusive control over decisions, since they involve the life and death of citizens, but when it comes to issues that affect the Jewish people as a whole, the opinion of world Jewry needs to be heard. It is also legitimate for them to direct their activities in accordance with the extent that Israel respects them, consults with them, and integrates them into the decision-making process.

Israel is not the boss of world Jewry or of the Jewish religion.

In politics, everyone talks in “political speak.” It’s true there is no “Diaspora Jews Party” in the Knesset, and the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel have extremely limited power, but this doesn’t mean that we can exclude them from the conversation and ignore their concerns. I expect that a storm will erupt if future discourse is carried out in this tone.

This, at least, is my understanding gleaned from this week’s events.

World Jewry is not Israel’s servant, but neither is the opposite true, of course. Consequently, the government must internalize that the strength of all the Jewish communities worldwide is at its disposal, provided that world Jewry’s concerns, interests and status are taken into consideration and become an integral part of the Israeli government’s decision-making process on issues that concern both partners.

Say it in Hebrew, say it in “political speak.”

Thanks, Nachman.



Anonymous said...

"The dean of federation execs"? Did they appoint him to that?

paul jeser said...

Link to Shai's pece:

Also: D.Gordis: Israelis don’t care that you’re insulted: An open letter to American Jews

American Jews have every right to express their feelings, but should not cross the line into trying to affect Israel’s policy.

Anonymous said...

Gordis, like Paul, once again misses the point.

Anonymous said...

Natan Sharansky is not the hero of the Kotel.

Sharansky did not approach Netanyahu to expand the Kotel for progressive Judaism, the opposite is true. Netanyahu decided to create the alternative prayer space and he approached Sharansky.

Sharansky took on the job of bringing all the streams into alignment and hashing out the details. After almost 4 years of work he succeeded at achieving an agreement.

Now comes Netanyahu and freezes implementation of the agreement.

The hero of the Jewish People is quoted as saying: "Netanyahu should not have promised what he couldn't deliver".

Like a disappointed child, Sharansky will not criticize Bibi for his decision to put coalition politics over Jewish unity. Only for wasting Sharansky's time, embarrassing him, and disappointing his desire to be the hero again.

Sharansky is only a lap dog of Netanyahu, or in the words of mother Russia, a useful idiot.

Anonymous said...

» PreOccupied Territory
Progressive Jews Enraged At Kotel Decision, Might Write Strongly-Worded Letter

“We demand that the prime minister reverse his shameful kowtowing to the ultra-orthodox, and kowtow to us instead.”

Western WallNew York, June 29 – Representatives of the liberal streams of Judaism in the US and Israel expressed intense anger this week at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s move to freeze an arrangement at the Western Wall that would have accommodated egalitarian prayers in the main plaza, and they vowed to draft as many as three letters with forceful language to give voice to their displeasure.

Netanyahu bowed to political pressure from Haredi coalition allies opposed to the plan, raising the ire of progressive groups abroad seeking greater sway in Israeli affairs. Congressional and lay community leaders among Reform, Reconstructionist, liberal Conservative, and various nondenominational Jewish groups claim they have never felt such a powerful feeling of betrayal and fury since Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak to the US Congress in 2015, and promised unequivocal verbiage in their written and oral statements on the matter.

“This is an outrage,” declared Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Reform movement. “We demand that the prime minister reverse his shameful kowtowing to the ultra-orthodox, and kowtow to us instead. If he refuses, he can expect no fewer than a handful of open letters in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other publications. That is our ultimatum.”

“We will not stand for this,” pronounced Rabbi Nyle Lissum of Temple Now in Scarsdale, New York. “Our rage must be made known, and the consequences of this disgrace will reverberate throughout the community. Already, several lay leaders in our congregation have staged a sit-in in the entryway, and if that does not accomplish our goal we may escalate to holding placards and making statements to the media. Ignore not our pique, Bibi. We warn you.”

The effectiveness of the protests remains to be determined, and will depend in large measure on whether they can be sustained according to analyst Ramuel Sosner of the Jewish Journal. “The escalated rhetoric of US Jewish leaders on this matter is important, but to achieve results it cannot be a flash in the pan,” he explained in an interview. “Are these communities prepared to make real sacrifices for the cause beyond attending a demonstration or writing a letter to the editor? Because it will take more than ignoring an invitation to the annual Israel Bonds Breakfast at the synagogue for this to work. It might even require shifting attention away from making Muslims feel as welcome as possible in the US in favor of time and dedication to this Jewish cause. It remains a question whether enough progressive Jews feel capable of that.”

Anonymous said...

In a much more articulate manner than Sharansky and all the Federation execs, Danny Gordis plays the enfant terrible who advocates open warfare between Israel and American Jewery.

While saying that BDS is the furthest thing he could imagine, he essentially advocates it.

Shutting down dollars to Israel over a political dispute can never be dialed back.

The AIPAC leaders or Federation donors with weak commitment to Israel will find other places to play with their marbles and Israel will be permanently the worse. They will never dial their support back up.

The most articulate response I have seen so far is the following:

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:05

Lapdog or an anarchist?

It seems more the latter

After all, there has been an ecumenical plworship at the Kotel for years. The government was committed to expanding and beautifying it. So what if it didn't have a common entrance with the other two plazas? So what, if an "ecumenical counsel of elders (read Rick Jacobs, Jerry Silverman and some pontificating pals of there) didn't run it?

He created this crisis and then all the enemies of Netanyahu (ie. Haaretz, Labor Party politicians, etc) that didn't have the courage to target the real antagonists of this saga - the Agudah and Shas leadership - used this as a pretext to create a crisis for the Bibi and his coalition.

Let's see all these "heroes" directly go to battle against the Haredi politicians.

Then we will know who the real men are.