NEW YORK – A group of leaders from the Conservative and Reform movements read out a statement of protest on Tuesday during an event hosted by the Israeli Embassy in Washington against the government’s recent actions limiting religious pluralism in the country, which they described as “a litany of betrayals of the religious ideals and values on which the State of Israel was founded.”
The statement was presented at the end of a reception attended by delegates of the Biennial Convention of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the Men of Reform Judaism.
Although it was not part of the original program, the authors notified the embassy of their plan to read it out just moments before the event started, without disclosing details of its content.
“Our communities have long been the backbone of support for Israel,” it said. “In light of those facts, it is painful to describe the anger, frustration, disillusionment and disappointment throughout our communities concerning the most recent developments with regard to the Kotel, conversion and the authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”
The statement’s authors and cosigners represent a consortium of leaders from liberal Jewish groups including the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel, ARZA, MERCAZ, Cantors Assembly, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, Men of Reform Judaism and Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.
“These developments, offensive as they were, unfortunately do not stand in isolation but are only the most recent manifestations of a lack of respect for non-Orthodox Jewry both in Israel and in the Diaspora,” the statement read.
“It is not our purpose today to recount a litany of betrayals of the religious ideals and values on which the State of Israel was founded, a state meant to be the homeland for all Jews,” the signatories added. “We know, and you know, that we are speaking of more than just what has transpired over the last few weeks; nonetheless, to embrace what in some ways is a Middle Eastern metaphor, these straws have broken the camel’s back.”
Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs president Allan Gottesman on Wednesday told The Jerusalem Post that in reading out the statement, the organizations “just wanted their voices heard.”
“We love Israel, we visit Israel, but we had an agreement of having the pluralistic part of the Kotel,” he said. “The prime minister had said that we’d work towards something, that we’d figure something out, but they decided we don’t have a deal.
“We want the prime minister and the parliament to understand that we’re upset.
We had a deal and now you just changed it. We’re all Jews. We’re not telling you to change, we’re not saying give up your part of the Wall or anything else. It’s my homeland too. We have enough trouble with our neighbors, why do we have to fight with ourselves?” In their statement, the writers added that it was “precisely [their] strong bonds with Israel that now compel candor, bluntness.”
“This is not some pro forma protest which can be airbrushed away,” they told the embassy, Gottesman said. “This is not a debate about geopolitical issues. Rather, it goes to the heart of whether Israel perceives non-Orthodox Jews as legitimate.”
Gottesman added that believes policies reflected in the freezing of the Kotel agreement and in the push for the controversial conversion bill, risk dividing the worldwide Jewish community at a time when it must remain united.
Despite trying to make an impact with their statement by not fully disclosing it in advance, Gottesman said it was also important for them not to enter any conflict with the embassy.
The DC Embassy’s spokesperson, Itai Bardov told the Post on Wednesday: “The Embassy was asked in advance by Men’s Club representatives to read out a statement regarding the Western Wall and the embassy agreed, in light of its belief in freedom of speech and pluralism.”
“The Embassy is in constant dialogue with all streams of Judaism and will continue engaging in such dialogue,” he added. “The event was a very positive one and we look forward to hosting similar events in the future.”