“This is a much more urgent issue than people realize,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former senior-level US Defense Department official in the Regan administration and the JREC’s chairman, said at a lobbying session according to a report in the Times of Israel. “What this does,” Zackheim continued, “is further stimulate those Jews [who view Israel as a bully and the Palestinians as its victim] and alienate others.”
Haredi And Zionist Orthodox Policy Of Exclusion Of Conservative And Reform Movements Is Damaging Israel’s Security And Its Future, American Jewish Leaders Say
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Members of the US-based Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (JREC) were in Israel last week to lobby Israeli policymakers. The JREC wants Israel’s exclusionary marriage laws changed. Israelis working for that change want the change to be incremental and bottom up, a process that could take decades and which has very little chance of success.
So why do these Israelis want that slow and very uncertain process rather than faster legal means to change?
In part, likely because almost all of these leaders the JREC met with are Modern Orthodox and on religious grounds don’t want the Reform and Conservative movements to be given equal footing – which is what would likely happen if a legal strategy similar to what the NAACP used to end segregation in the US is followed.
On the other hand, incremental change has the possibility of strengthening religiously left-leaning Modern Orthodoxy.
The rapid change that would come from suddenly recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions and which allowed marriages to be conducted by Reform and Conservative rabbis would likely isolate left-leaning Modern Orthodoxy from the rest of Israeli Orthodoxy and would force it to move to the right.
The Americans stressed that the issue is far too urgent to wait decades for slow change to come as politicians – most of whom are secular – slowly realize the need for religious pluralism and finally act to put it in place.
“This is a much more urgent issue than people realize,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former senior-level US Defense Department official in the Regan administration and the JREC’s chairman, said at a lobbying session according to a report in the Times of Israel.
“What this does,” Zackheim continued, “is further stimulate those Jews [who view Israel as a bully and the Palestinians as its victim] and alienate others.”
Zakheim said that until recently the US has been “the one ally you [Israelis] have in bad days and good.” But the divisive discourse regarding the Iran nuclear deal has changed that.
Harriet Schleifer, another JREC leader, told the Israelis that it isn’t as if Israel can lose the support of US Jews today and then magically gain it back tomorrow. Ten or 15 years from now, Schleifer said, those US Jews who “don’t have Israel in their kishkes, the way that we had Israel in our kishkes” will not be sympathetic to an Israel they view as exclusionary.
“Israel has put up a barrier. The American Jewish connection to Israel is a religious connection. If you put a disconnect in that religious connection, it’s going to fizzle out,” Schleifer said.
A leader of the American Jewish Committee, Jerry Ostrov, noted that in the US, even among children of non-Orthodox Jewish community leaders intermarriage is high. And when the non-Jewish halves of the young couples decide to convert to Judaism, Israel doesn’t recognize them as Jews, and when the converts and their families realize that, their support for Israel quickly dissipates.
Zakheim explained it this way.
“When a Jew marries out, it’s not just the Jew marrying out, it’s marrying into a non-Jewish family that usually becomes supporters of Israel.” If the born Jew in that relationship feels animosity toward Israel for how Israel treats his or her spouse and rabbi, the convert’s non-Jewish family will also feel that animosity. And that dissipates support for Israel.
“Look, we’re paying your bills, I know you hate hearing it, but we’re paying your bills!” a frustrated Zackheim said at another point in the meeting. But if Israel continues to mistreat Reform and Conservative Jews, that bill-paying is likely to stop on a personal level, on a Jewish communal level – and, most importantly for Israel, on a governmental level, as well.