Barak Shows Friendly Face to Obama, URJ

Israeli Defense Chief Offers Olive Branch to Liberal Jews

Good Mood: Normally tough-talking Defense Minister Ehud Barak showed off his friendly side during a visit to Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital. He vowed to defend Israeli democracy in a speech to the Union for Reform Judaism.
getty images
Good Mood: Normally tough-talking Defense Minister Ehud Barak showed off his friendly side during a visit to Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital. He vowed to defend Israeli democracy in a speech to the Union for Reform Judaism.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 16, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Israeli government chose to show its friendly face to the Reform movement by sending defense minister Ehud Barak as the top Israeli representative to the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Barak meet with President Barack Obama for 30 minutes at the conference center. The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the two leaders discussed regional issues and the challenges facing the Middle East, the United States and Israel.

Barak thanked Obama for strengthening the security ties between Israel and the United States during his term.

Cordial Chat: President Barack Obama chats with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the sidelines of the URJ biennial.
white house/pete souza
Cordial Chat: President Barack Obama chats with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the sidelines of the URJ biennial.

There are not many officials in the current Israeli coalition government that can offer a warm embrace to America’s largest Jewish denomination.

The Reform movement has been critical of many current Israeli policies and of trends in Israeli society including the controversial attempt to change conversion laws, growing gender segregation in the public sphere, and legislation aimed at limiting civil-society institutions.

But Ehud Barak, the former leader of Israel’s Labor Party, offered an olive branch to his listeners from the Reform movement.

Referring to the Reform audience as a “loud and proud family,” Barak, who usually focuses on national security issues when speaking overseas, devoted a significant part of his speech to addressing some of the fears Jewish Americans, especially those affiliated with the liberal side of the Jewish world, have regarding recent activities of Israel’s government and lawmakers.

“I know that in this room there is genuine concern regarding the wave of proposed legislation that has the potential to harm our democracy and the rule of law,” Barak said. “As the Defense Minister of the State of Israel, I can assure you that I will stand rock solid against any attempt to curb freedoms or undermine our democracy. I will not allow politicized, targeted legislation to undermine the value of the supremacy of the law.”

To the cheers of the crowd Barak added: “The only Jewish Democratic State in the world must remain exactly that: a Jewish and democratic state.”

Barak even went a step further and made a point of debunking the claim that Israelis do not wish to hear any criticism from Diaspora Jews, criticism of the kind that the Reform movement had leveled at times.

“Your presence and voice is essential to our decision making,” Barak said. “We welcome the debate and value your input.” He even topped his praise for the Reform Movement by commending the group’s “fiery spirit of pride and progress” that “burns so bright.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.