Douglas M. Bloomfield
Douglas M. Bloomfield

Where Jews are free to be Jews

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My granddaughter wore a tallit and read from the Torah for her Bat Mitzvah last month at Ruach HaMaqom, the oldest synagogue in Vermont. It is in a neighborhood on the Old North End in Burlington that was once known as “Little Jerusalem.” If she tried that at some places along the Western Wall in old Jerusalem she’d could have been stoned by ultra-Orthodox Jews or even arrested and hauled off by police.

The crisis created by Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to “freeze’ the 18-month-old agreement to create an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Kotel reminds us of the sad reality that Jews in America, especially women, have more freedom to practice their Judaism than their brothers and sisters in Israel.

The prime minister’s surrender to the extortionist ultra-religious establishment rather than stand up for the Jewish people – as he likes to boast — poses a far greater threat to Israel’s future than any foreign enemy.

He sold them out to protect this job, not to protect the Jewish people. Abandonment is a two-way street.

American Jewry is no longer reflexively pro-Israel. Last month’s decision is likely to accelerate the erosion of support. It is most pronounced among the younger and more progressive Jews. American Jewish college students are turning away from Israel in alarming numbers, many even leaning toward the Palestinian side, according a study by Brand Israel Group, which seeks to improve Israel’s image in the US.

Under pressure from two ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, Shas and United Torah Judaism, Netanyahu froze the 2016 agreement with Reform, Conservative and other movements, which took three years to negotiate and which he had endorsed. UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman declared Netanyahu’s action means “The Reform do not and will not have access or recognition at the Western Wall.”

Next the ultra-religious are pushing for a law giving the Chief Rabbinate, which they control, a monopoly on conversions. Bibi backs it but temporarily delayed passage in the wake of the latest tsunami caused by his anti-pluralism action. The legislation would give state-run Haredi courts control of conversions, denying recognition to private Orthodox conversions in Israel as well as those by Conservative and Reform streams everywhere.

This has nothing to do with religion; it is purely cynical politics for the secular Netanyahu.

A top Netanyahu aide was rebuffed when, in a teleconference with Israeli diplomats in the United State,s he suggested blaming the crisis on Reform and Conservative movements for not giving the PM more time to find another way to appease the religious extremists.

No one was buying. This was another self-inflicted wound. Big machers from around the country unloaded on Israeli officials they knew in the U.S. and Israel, including the PM himself.

One well-placed diplomatic source told me the American Jewish reaction was “ferocious” and Jews were feeling betrayed “by an unreliable, dishonest, second-grade politician.” He said they were using words like “angry, abhorred, anguished, disgusted, alarmed, ashamed, shocked.”

He said, “We’re pushing away the Jewish community in the US instead of bringing it closer.”

Normally fawning and docile Jewish leaders told Netanyahu it’s about more than donors, it’s about political activism, grassroots connections to Members of Congress, and it is about the strategic relationship.

I’ve been meeting with Jewish groups and political activists around the country for most of the past 40 years and I’ve seen their interest and enthusiasm steadily waning. Lately that’s been accelerating. And as they go, so will the political leaders who look to them for guidance and support.

If American Jewry loses interest in Israel, so will the Congress.

Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of the New York Jewish Week, put it best when he wrote: “How can Prime Minister Netanyahu continue to call on American Jewry for unwavering support when he has so blatantly sold them out for personal politics?”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
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