Countering the Reform Movement's falsehoods

40 U.S. Orthodox leaders met with Netanyahu and others last week, the first time this growing, pro-Israel group has challenged the taken- for-granted Reform and Conservative representation of US Jewry.

Tzvi Lev

OpEds Reform Jews praying in Jerusalem (illustrative)
Reform Jews praying in Jerusalem (illustrative)

This past November, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told i24 News that American Jews cannot understand Israel since they do not serve in the army. “Most [American] Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq,” said Hotovely.

“Most of them are having [sic] quite comfortable lives,” she added. “They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel deals with on a daily basis.”

Hotovely’s seemingly innocuous comment caused a firestorm. The left went crazy. The media crucified her. Within hours, Netanyahu leaked to Channel 2 that he was considering firing Hotovely for her remarks. The next day’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper plastered the story across its first four pages, ridden with virulent criticism.

What was interesting about the media response is that these denunciations did not come from diaspora Jews who were hurt and offended by the minister’s remarks. Rather, the criticism came from leaders of the Israeli Reform and Conservative movements – Gilad Kariv and Yizhar Hess, respectively.

The fact that the Israeli media turned to Kariv and Hess for reactions, despite neither being American, was the result of a remarkably successful marketing campaign branding the non-Orthodox Jews as the true representatives of diaspora Jewry. The Reform and Conservative movements, due to their raucous and noisy publicity campaigns, have succeeded in making their movements synonymous with diaspora Jewry as a whole.

According to this paradigm, as Conservative and Reform are the biggest Jewish movements in the United States, refusing to succumb to their endless demands was tantamount to writing off large segments of U.S. Jews, many of whom give large donations to Israeli charities.

And so it was, after Israel canceled the Western Wall Compromise in 2017 that would have given the non-Orthodox movements a foothold at Judaism’s holiest site, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly President Philip Scheim said that, “the government has formally slapped Diaspora Jewry on the face”.

Why are these episodes being dredged up when they both occurred months ago? Because last week, a delegation of forty prominent figures in the U.S. Orthodox community met with Israeli officials, with the intent of debunking the falsehood that only Reform and Conservative moments are the true representatives of American Jewry.

During meetings with legislative decision makers, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), the Americans pointed out the skyrocketing intermarriage rates and anti-Israel lurch plaguing the non-Orthodox denominations.

The delegation was unprecedented, as it marks the first time that the Orthodox community banded together in an organized fashion to finally fight fire with fire, after years of self-aggrandizing falsehoods and artificial victimhood that the Reform movement has nurtured for decades.

While this move is welcome, more must be done. One trip by Orthodox leaders is not enough to counteract the millions of dollars the non-Orthodox movements had invested in fooling Israel’s citizens. These delegations must become a regular occurrence as a means of spotlighting the Orthodox community, a sector which unlike its Reform and Conservative counterparts, does not threaten Israel with boycotts when the democratically elected government ignores its wishes.

U.S. Orthodox Jewry has overwhelmingly supported Israel unconditionally, despite many things done by the government which are incompatible with Torah values, such as rampant Shabbat desecration. Only by showing run-of-the-mill Israelis the facts of life, can the tide be turned against years of unrelenting non-Orthodox propaganda.

In 2005, Israel announced its intention to forcibly expel 9,000 Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip. The plan was met largely with resistance from the American Orthodox world, which was aghast at the prospect of handing over parts of the historical Jewish homeland.

At the time, as Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer pointed out,  the Orthodox community did not threaten to boycott Israel or drop ominous hints about a “rupture” in Israeli-Diaspora relations, unlike the behavior of the Reform and Conservative movements during last July’s Kotel saga. On the contrary, American Orthodox Jews redoubled their engagement in Israel, and continue to arguably be Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S.

Unconditional support, and not entitled threats, should be how American Jewry treats its Israeli brethren.