Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to appease non-Orthodox Jewish organizations in the U.S. has provoked outrage among Torah Jews on both sides of the ocean, and chareidi MKs warned of serious consequences if the prime minister should follow through on his promises to the Reform and Conservative movements.
“I want to guarantee one thing to each and every one of you: As prime minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel — Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews — all Jews,” Netanyahu told a gathering of the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly.
Netanyahu spoke of a “governmental decision” to formally address the demands of the non-Orthodox groups in Israel.
“For the first time, the government of Israel is joining with the Jewish Agency to invest in strengthening Reform and Conservative communities within Israel. I am also hopeful that we will soon conclude a long overdue understanding that will ensure that the Kotel is a source of unity for our people, not a point of division,” he said.
Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) declared that the chareidi leaders would steadfastly resist any such measures.
“Throughout the generations we’ve known that the Reform and Conservative are tearing apart the Jewish nation. We mustn’t allow them to harm the Torah of Israel,” he said. “It’s sad that the prime minister made the comments and we will do everything in our power to make sure his promise will not be kept.”
Rabbi Litzman noted as well that Netanyahu’s promise “explicitly contradicts the coalition agreement he [Netanyahu] signed with us.”
Finance Committee Chairman MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni (UTJ) was no less harsh in his reaction, saying that the Reform Jews “stick a knife in the Torah of Israel.”
“What Netanyahu said is very serious and we will demand clarifications when he returns to Israel,” Rabbi Gafni said.
The Shas party released a scathing statement, rejecting the prime minister’s comments as well.
“The stance of Torah Jewry regarding the Reform Movement is known. We oppose them in every way. This position of ours will not change,” he declared.
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, pointed to the counterintuitive nature of throwing Israel’s support behind groups that are in statistic decline in their home bases in North America.
“The Prime Minister’s decision to strengthen Reform and Conservative in Israel neglects the abysmal track record the non-Orthodox movements have compiled in maintaining any sense of Jewish identity among their adherents. As we in America can attest, Reform and Conservative have been ravaged by the plagues of intermarriage and assimilation to the point where they are in a free-fall state of rapid demographic decline,” he said.
“The Prime Minister should recognize that the future of Israel as a Jewish State must be built on a firm foundation of Jewish commitment and Jewish continuity. That means a strengthening of Orthodox communities and institutions, not those of movements that have proven themselves incapable of sustaining Jewish identity.”
The Reform and Conservative movements are very small in Israel. Recent studies show that between seven and eight percent of Israeli Jews identify with the two groups combined. However, powerful non-Orthodox advocacy in America has been vocal over the lack of official recognition of the movements in Israel as well as protesting the present arrangement at the Kosel.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, said that these and other attempts to placate liberal movements in America stem from their aggressive lobbying and public relations efforts rather than actual demand.
“They should stop playing a game, I saw the spot that they set aside for Reform and Conservative already at the Kosel and it’s empty, no one uses it. Their agenda is harm us and take control away from Halachah and traditional Judaism,” he said.
He attributed the continued efforts of Reform and Conservative groups to an attempt to divert attention from falling demographics in the U.S., saying, “They are failing in America, so they decided to focus on Israel.”
“Why doesn’t the Prime Minister realize that these people were never for him?” said Rabbi Lerner. “The Reform movement wouldn’t support him against the Iran deal and J Street [a prominent liberal Israel think-tank] which is opposed to his whole government is full of Reform rabbis. Both Aliyah and financial support from America for Israel comes overwhelmingly from the Orthodox.”