Israel: Front and Center
As we all wait for word about the future of the critical talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna, I want to share a few thoughts about my recent time in Israel, meeting with politicians, fellow Reform Movement leaders, and some of the talented individuals staffing our Israel programs this summer.
It was a busy, productive visit in the country we all love and support because numerous events in recent weeks have put Israel front and center in the work of our URJ and the Reform Movement.
As you know, the ARZA slate garnered 39% of the vote in last spring’s WZO elections. Seeking to leverage that victory (and the associated funding), a group of Reform Jewish leaders from around the world met in Israel recently to strategize about how to shape a more pluralistic Israel committed to a two-state solution that embodies the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence that our Jewish State “will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” We look forward to on ongoing conversation in the months ahead.
While in Israel, incoming URJ board chair Daryl Messinger and I spent time with Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall board chair, and Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center. Together we had productive meetings with a cross-section of Knesset members, including:
- Gilad Erdan, a popular politician and member of the Likud party, he currently serves as the Public Security Minister and Minister for Public Diplomacy, as well as the Minister for Strategic Affairs. His portfolio also includes Boycott, Divestment , and Sanctions (BDS).
- Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the head of the Labor party and the current leader of the opposition.
- Stav Shafir, an inspired social justice advocate and the youngest female Knesset member in Israel’s history.
- Yoav Galant, a member of Kulanu and the Minister of Construction and Housing
- Aymen Odeh, an Arab Israeli, is the newest Arab in the Knesset. He heads Hadash, which is a Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, as well as the Arab List, a political coalition of four primarily Arab parties.
I met, too, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was forthright in denouncing David Azoulay’s appalling statement about Reform Judaism. The prime minister assured me that such contempt is unacceptable to him, and has no place in the Israeli government. On the matter of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, an issue that is important to the prime minister and one in which our movement can have some impact, serious efforts are underway to restart what had been a fruitful process prior to the elections. I am hopeful that with a new government in place, we can move ahead, and I look forward to reporting further progress soon.
As nuclear negotiations with Iran continue in Vienna, the RAC recently hosted a conference call in which Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States updated Reform Movement leaders about last April’s framework agreement, the prospects for a final deal, and the implications for nuclear non-proliferation — for U.S. interests and for Israel’s security. It is critically important to understand that the Reform Movement is committed to neither supporting nor opposing the deal until there is, in fact, a deal to consider. Even then, we are committed to studying the facts carefully, and to using the utmost integrity as part of a thoughtful process to arrive at our Reform Movement’s position. Perhaps the strongest message I received during my visit in Israel is that although members of the opposition may not agree with the prime minister’s negotiations and relationships with the U.S., the entirety of the State of Israel – left, right, and center – is united in the belief that the deal unfolding in Vienna will be difficult, if not impossible, for its citizens to support.
Amidst all the political meetings, I was delighted to spend some time at the orientation session for the talented individuals who will staff our NFTY in Israel, Mitzvah Corps, and Birthright programs this summer, as well as the fall semester of EIE. It is these exceedingly devoted, knowledgeable, and responsible professionals who will guide and teach our young people coming to experience – and be transformed by – the land, people, and history of Israel, many for the first time. I am extremely envious of the terrific encounters that await them in the Israel we all love and support.