Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met this week with the senior leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and a number of Federation directors, as well as senior leadership of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The meeting took place several days before Netanyahu arrives in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama on the Iranian issue.
Leading the group was JFNA’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, Kathy Manning, who told the prime minister of the movement’s current preparations for any developments that may arise as a result of Israel’s escalating tensions with Iran.
“In times of crisis in Israel, North American Jewry has always stepped up to the plate,” Manning told Netanyahu. “In the last decade we raised $750m in additional emergency funds for crises in Israel. If needs should arise, we are ready and prepared to do whatever is necessary, including providing for urgent financial needs , leading advocacy efforts, dealing with domestic security concerns and more.”
Netanyahu thanked the Jewish Federations for their steadfast support and expressed his satisfaction that the community would be there for Israel, whatever the future brings.
Manning also expressed her concern over internal issues in Israel, pointing out how recent events in Beit Shemesh and elsewhere are deeply troubling to North American Jewry. Beit Shemesh was recently in the news after a small group of extremist hareidim, not representative of the majority of hareidi-religious Jews, fought the presence of a religious Zionist girls’ school which borders their neighborhood. The extremists claimed that the girls' mode of dress, although set to a religious standard, is not modest enough to meet their particular standards.
Some of them insulted, cursed and yelled at the young girls. The Beit Shemesh law enforcement agencies either would not or could not put a stop to the volatile situation and let it go on unabated. This led to a protest in the city which served as way for different sectors of Israeli society, religious and secular alike, to air their opinions on the hareidi-secular divide.
Manning explained to the prime minister that issues such as the ones being discussed in Beit Shemesh put significant pressure on the strong ties that exist between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Netanyahu clarified that the government, as well as he personally, were very concerned and deeply troubled over some of these issues and reiterated that he would absolutely not tolerate any acts that jeopardize the country’s strong commitment to gender equality, freedom and tolerance. Jewish Federations expressed their gratitude to the prime minister over his strong stance on these issues.
JFNA’s CEO and president, Jerry Silverman, who was also at the meeting, said, “There is a long standing tradition of direct dialogue between Jewish Federations and the prime minister of Israel. We are heartened by the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu places so much importance on these meetings, and is always willing to listen, explain and discuss.”
Manning also raised the issue of Ethiopian Jewish aliyah, expressing her concern that a community of Jews that has been approved for aliyah has not yet been able to fulfill that wish. Shortly after the meeting, the government agreed to significantly increase Ethiopian aliyah, raising the monthly number from 110 to some 250 people.
The meeting took place before the appointment of Beylanesh Zevadia, an Ethiopian-born Jew, to the position of Israeli ambassador to Addis Ababa.
Netanyahu expressed his hope that he will be able to appear at JFNA’s General Assembly, scheduled to take place in Baltimore in November.
Manning and Silverman were joined by JFNA’s Chair of the Executive Committee Michael Gelman, Chair of the Board of the UJA Federation New York Alisa Doctoroff, JFNA Treasurer Heschel Raskas, UIA Chair Bruce Arbit, Chair of JFNA’s Israel and Overseas Committee, Saby Behar, JFNA Senior Vice President Rebecca Caspi, the senior exectuvies of several large city federations and representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization.