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We must continue to support religious pluralism in Israel

Recent developments in Israel policy have been troubling. The suspension of the Cabinet resolution to support “one Wall for one people” and the new conversion bill that was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation that changes the status quo of conversion for Israel are disconcerting and saddening for many Diaspora Jews. It creates a rift between our people that can have devastating consequences.

 

In January 2016, the Israeli Cabinet voted to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. This resolution was passed after years of negotiations led by Natan Sharansky of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in concert with Jewish Federations, various religious streams, the Israeli government and the Women of the Wall. As of June 2017, the agreement was halted due to political pressures from various parties within the Knesset.

The suspension of this decision has ramifications for religious pluralism in Israel, a strong value held by many in North America. Ninety percent of Jews in the U.S. identify as Reform or Conservative Jews. Both of these movements believe their form of religious practice should be recognized in Israel. It is not.

The feelings around this issue are so acute that some are calling for withholding funds from Israel or boycotting Israeli businesses like El Al Airlines. Others are voicing their objections through letters, calls to the Israel Consul General and general advocacy and education within their own communities. This issue has the potential of creating a severe threat to global Jewish unity.

Whatever your political thoughts regarding Israel, keep this in mind: We cannot let our dismay color the fact that together — through our gifts to Jewish Federation — we support vitally needed social services in Israel. We impact lives. Our value of tikkun olam drives who we are as Jews. At the same time, we must speak our minds.

Our Federation supports a range of programs that strengthen religious pluralism in Israel. We support Israel’s ITIM Advocacy Center, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and various programs in our partnership region of Ramle, Israel, that also develop and nurture this premise. We must continue to support these programs, as these types of decisions made by the Israeli government could have a disastrous impact on global Jewry by undermining the special relationship we have with Israel. I implore you to make your voices heard. We cannot allow this to happen.

Now is the time to take action.

Please reach out to Eitan Levon at the office of the Consul General to Israel of the Southwest (823-301-3500, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or on Twitter at @IsraelSW) to express your deep disappointment in these two government actions. Keep informed about these unfolding issues. Continue to support the initiatives that foster religious pluralism.

As Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Zionist Orthodox organization Tzohar said, “we cannot let a minority here in Israel create a catastrophe for the Jewish People.” We must act.

Dr. Helene Lotman is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.