Michael Boyden

Government ministers snub Reform Jews

Some ministers are undermining the efforts of their own cabinet to mend ties with diaspora Jewry

Israel’s Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, will be in Paris this week. He is not visiting France as a private citizen, but will no doubt be using his diplomatic passport, and the cost of his visit, including that of his entourage, will be met by the Israeli taxpayer.

Nevertheless, this has not prevented Deri, according to the charedi newspaper Kikar Ha-Shabbat, from refusing to meet leaders of France’s Liberal Jewish community during his visit to the Great Synagogue.

Deri’s behavior is hardly surprising given his reaction to the recent agreement reached by Israel’s government with the Women of the Wall over the issue of their demand to be able to worship as they wish at the Kotel. He is quoted as having said: “The problem of Reform and Conservative Jews did not exist until now in the State of Israel and I do not intend to let it happen now. There should be no compromise on this issue.”

As a private citizen, Deri is entitled to his prejudices, but not while he serves as a Cabinet member, who is there to address the needs of the entire Jewish People.

Deri’s insulting behavior follows that of deputy Minister of Education, Meir Porush, who was reported as having said that the Women of the Wall should be “thrown to the dogs” and that “the Reform are responsible for the terrible intermarriage that we’ve been witnessing in the United States”.

If that were not enough, Israel’s Minister of Tourism, Yariv Levin, stated that “Reform Jews are a dying world” and chairman of the government’s Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni, described them as “clowns who stab the holy Torah”.

His remarks simply endorsed those of the Minister for Religious Affairs, David Azoulai, who is quoted as having said that he could not allow himself to refer to Reform Jews as Jews.

Now all of this could be brushed aside if one were talking about fanatical rabbis or inconsequential figures on the Israeli political stage. However, these are government ministers. No amount of reprimanding by Prime Minister Netanyahu will make them behave any differently.

Netanyahu can tell American Jewish community leaders at the GA in Washington that he would ensure that all Jews feel at home in Israel. However, what is happening in reality is that increasingly large numbers of Diaspora Jews feel alienated by the State of Israel. That harms Jewish unity and will also harm Israel.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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