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“We had a big argument. Yossi said it will never work, that it has to be completely free and that is what happened in the end,” Lurie recalled in a recent interview in New York. But it was the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who actually killed the plan.
Lurie: “Sometimes I would go to Israel three times a month, often just for the day, and I would always go and see Rabin. And he would say, in that tone of his, ‘Och, Lurie, you’re here again.’ Rabin hated AIPAC [the Israel lobby group in Washington], but loved the UJA, and he would usually do whatever we asked of him. But when I told him about my idea, he said, ‘You have all the money you need, I’m not going to give you a penny.’
Goldberg, the widely respected author of the 1997 book “Jewish Power” on the American Jewish establishment, confirms Lurie’s account: “It went from Lurie to Yossi Beilin to philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, and from there to Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu], who reversed Rabin’s position and agreed to Israeli government funding - and the rest is history,” he says.
Goldberg describes the incoming NIF chief as a “liberal and a maverick” who is nonetheless planted in the center of American Jewish life - in much the same way that the organization views itself and is viewed in turn by many American Jews. Lurie is also one of the few rabbis, he adds, to have played such a prominent role in mainstream Jewish-American communal life.
Lurie echoes Goldberg’s analysis of the organization. “The NIF is anchored in Jewish values,” he says.”Not extreme Jewish values, but central Jewish values. I see the NIF as strengthening democracy and strengthening Judaism. I believe that the vast majority of American Jews share the values of the NIF. And a substantial number of Israelis - I don’t know if they are a majority or a large minority - also share NIF values. I believe that those values, those Jewish values, are embodied in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, and those are the values we are fighting for. And that this is a fight for Israel’s very existence.”
Lurie describes his three-year stint as a rabbi at San Francisco’s Temple Emanu-El as “the most gratifying of my life” and frequently cites the concept of “Jewish values” - especially when promoting the rights of Israeli Arabs, a topic that is close to his heart. In 2000, at the start of the second intifada, he conceived, and after a few years succeeded in establishing (together with Steven Schwager), the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues. This group now encompasses scores of U.S. Jewish organizations, from left to right, including foundations, federations and other bodies.