After being rebuffed by Israel’s diplomatic representatives in Washington for weeks, Jewish activists working for religious pluralism in Israel might have finally found a listening ear.
Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s minister in charge of ties with the Diaspora, has promised to raise the issue in the Israeli cabinet and work for finding a solution.
Edelstein’s commitment, made at the end of a recent U.S. tour in which he met with Jewish communal and organizational leaders, comes as Jewish community leaders have grown increasingly angry over Israeli actions against activists of the Reform and Conservative movements on issues of women rights, equality and conversion. What sparked the harshest response in the American Jewish community was the arrest of a Jewish woman for wearing a prayer shawl at the Western Wall and the subsequent questioning of a Reform activist who advocates the right of women to pray at the Wall.
“It is important that my fellow ministers and lawmakers know there is a problem in the dialogue with American Jews and that we cannot ignore it,” Edelstein told reporters in Washington, “there is a sense of frustration from calls not being answered, from having no one to talk with.”
The move by Edelstein is aimed at creating a ministerial level dialogue group that will engage in discussion with leaders of the U.S. Jewish community regarding their concerns over religious issues in Israel. He stressed that such a group should include also ministers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party that head the interior ministry and the ministry of religious affairs.
“It is very complicated, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to find an answer,” he said, adding that members of the American Jewish community should also remember that “there are people in Israel who have a different view” on these issues.
According to Edelstein, the frustration of the Jewish community over rights of Conservative and Reform Jews in Israel has created a potential disconnect between the community and Israel and could dampen relations in the long run. “People told me: ‘We support Israel and love Israel but you can’t expect us to stand up for you every time, when nobody is listening to our concerns,” the Israeli minister said, referring to meetings he held with Jewish leaders in New York, Washington and Philadelphia.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.