Bennett: American Jews are our brothers

Israel's relationship with American Jews is in trouble, says Education Minister: 'They feel like they've been slapped in the face'.

David Rosenberg ,

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), who also holds the Diaspora Affairs Ministry portfolio, warned Tuesday morning that the apparent widening divide between Israel and non-Orthodox American Jewry in the wake of recent Israeli government decisions on the Western Wall Plaza and conversion legislation is real, and that the issue must be addressed.

“After marathon talks with [leaders of] American Jewry, the situation is serious,” Bennett tweeted.

“They feel as if they just received a slap in the face from the Israeli government, and [were told] that they aren’t welcome.”

“That isn’t the case, of course, but that’s how they feel. We will be in continuous contact with them today. American Jews are our brothers. They are welcome here.”

On Sunday, the government voted to shelve a plan adopted in 2016 to set aside a portion of the Western Wall in Jerusalem for non-traditional, mixed-gender religious services held by groups affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements.

Recent surveys show that the Conservative Movement is in drastic decline, while 80% of Reform Jews intermarry and very few marry at all, with only a small percentage of those who do deciding to raise their children to be Jews. Orthodox numbers are increasing.

Later that day, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave the coalition’s backing for the proposed Conversion Law, which would restrict the government’s recognition of conversions performed in Israel to those done under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.

Non-Orthodox movements in the US blasted the two moves, arguing they infringed on religious liberty and would alienate the majority of American Jews from the Jewish state.

"These decisions simply pushed Diaspora Jews out, delegitimizing those who stand up every day against the BDS, UNESCO resolutions and the delegitimization of Israel,” said Union of Reform Judaism in North America President Rick Jacobs.

In response to the blowback, Bennett pledged to meet with American Jewish leaders to clarify the nature of the government’s decisions, and to bridge the gap regarding the two hot-button issues.

“There have been mistakes and there is also a lot of disinformation,” explained Bennett, citing rumors that the government “closed down Israel Railways” after coalition leaders agreed to halt rail work on Shabbat, and spurious claims that “millions are being barred from converting”.

“The plan is to listen and have a dialogue. Dispel the rumors.”