The leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a centrist Jewish establishment group, warned over the weekend that the deal Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered that will likely bring extremist followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane into the Israeli Knesset could hurt Israel’s image abroad.
Malcolm Hoenlein, longtime executive vice president of the Presidents Conference, is a close ally of Netanyahu’s, and an influential figure in the Jewish community and in Washington. His criticism of Netanyahu’s maneuver underscores a rare moment of tension in relations between Netanyahu and the leaders of the American Jewish establishment, who have been infrequent critics over his long tenure as prime minister.
“For those who follow this, there’s a lot of concern,” Hoenlein told the Associated Press. “What we have to deal with is how it is perceived and understood in the United States… And we have to be very careful because it feeds certain tendencies that are very concerning to us.”
Hoenlein stopped short of openly criticizing Netanyahu himself, telling the AP that he had not spoken with Netanyahu, and couldn’t make a judgement. “He obviously has some political calculation that drove him to it, but politics can’t dictate everything,” Hoenlein told the wire service. “You have to take into consideration all of the ramifications and all of the concerns.”
Hoenlein’s comments came after a number of Jewish establishment groups aired their own concerns over the development on Friday, following on a raft of condemnations from progressive Jewish groups earlier in the week. AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, both infrequent commentators on internal Israeli political affairs, and even more infrequent critics of Israeli policies, put out statements late last week.
The institutions of Conservative Judaism put out their own statement over the weekend, criticizing the merger.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.
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