Reform Rabbinic leadership meets with Netanyahu
JERUSALEM—Ahead of the Central Conference of American Rabbis annual convention in Israel, which began on Feb. 23, the organization’s leadership met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss Israeli-American relations and the organization’s commitment to Israel as a democratic, pluralistic, egalitarian state that advocates for peace and supports human rights for all. The meeting was particularly important given both recent positive developments at the Kotel and disparaging remarks made by Israeli officials about the Reform Movement.
The audience with Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks to the urgency of CCAR’s work and advocacy on behalf of the Reform Movement, especially given the current political and religious climate in Israel.
“Our meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu was a productive discussion of successes to date, balanced with opportunities for the future of our relationship,” said CCAR Chief Executive Steve Fox. “It was especially meaningful that we were able to meet with the prime minister together with our Israeli Reform partners, both to articulate the significance of Reform Judaism in both Israel and around the world and to thank him for his leadership role and vision in regard to the Kotel issue.”
With the CCAR leadership were their Reform partners, including Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism; Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center; and Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center.
In the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of Israel’s crucial role in preserving democracy and holding back Muslim fundamentalism in the region, as well as the double standard that many groups apply to Israel despite the state’s efforts to be an open yet secure democracy in a volatile region. The CCAR has decried this double standard and the difficulty of Israel’s position over the years, but has always continued to call for increased religious pluralism and equality for all peoples in Israel.
As a leader advocating for a progressive future for Israel, the CCAR affirmed the prime minister’s role in the Kotel deal and praised the Israeli Supreme Court’s recent decision to ban discrimination against non-Orthodox converts at public mikvahs throughout the country.
In response to questions from the room, Prime Minister Netanyahu assured CCAR leadership that he has rebuked ministers in his government who have spoken out against the Reform Movement.
“We are deeply committed to Israel and its Reform Jews, and are happy to have the opportunity to address our concerns for Israel’s future with Prime Minister Netanyahu. His leadership on these issues is invaluable,” noted Rabbi Denise Eger, CCAR president.
The prime minister also encouraged the Reform rabbis and Israeli Reform leadership to open dialogue with those ministers who have disparaged Reform Judaism and to build bridges with them.
On its part, the CCAR called upon the prime minister to work with the Reform community to build bridges with the next generation of young Jews, world whose relationship with Israel is challenged on a daily basis.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed the need to build bridges, and that’s exactly why we’re here in Israel right now. As Reform leaders, we are dedicated to the State of Israel and are excited to continue the conversation,” said Rabbi Fox.