US Federations Condemn Jewish Extremism in Israel

The Jewish Federation of North American (JFNA) has issued three statements about Jewish religious extremism in Israel.

JFNA issued a statement condeming extremism on behalf of all US federations on December 27, 2011.

JFNA acted quickly after the Arutz 2 (Channel 2) expose of Beit Shemesh that featured a little girl in Beit Shemeh terrorized by religious extremism. On December 27, 2011, JFNA issued a statement Jewish Federations Condemn Wave of Religious Extremism and Violence”, spoke of the contrast between the actions of the extremists and the Judaism of “darche noam”:

“Our movement includes Jewish people from all streams and persuasions. Yet, despite our differing backgrounds, we unite today to strongly condemn, with one clear and loud voice, all acts of violence, intimidation, coercion and extremism, especially those that are undertaken, incredibly, in the name of Judaism,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA. “We know that ‘deracheha darchei noam’ – the Torah’s paths are ways of peace. We stand firmly and resolutely behind the voices of reason and moderation in Bet Shemesh and throughout Israel.

Three weeks later on Jaunary 17 the JFNA Rabbinic Cabinet issued a “Statement of Concern”. It strongly condemned the behavior of the extremists as despicable acts that created a chilul haShem and assured the public that no JFNA funds were being spent on ultra-orthodox yeshivas.

As rabbis we are concerned by the disturbing acts of extremists and fanatics within the ultra-Orthodox population including the shocking use of Holocaust imagery, discrimination against women, spitting on a child, as well as other recent polarizing and despicable acts.

The Rabbinic Cabinet of The Jewish Federations of North America affirms its commitment to K’lal Yisrael and embraces the acceptance of all Jews within all streams of Judaism.  Therefore, the Rabbinic Cabinet of Jewish Federations condemns in no uncertain terms the recent events in Beit Shemesh and classifies this offensive behavior as a chillul ha-shem.

….It is important to note that no money collected by Jewish Federations and sent to Israel via JFNA goes to fund ultra-Orthodox yeshiva studies.  In fact, the programs that Federations are funding, and which impact this population, are designed to promote greater diversity by aiding them to enter the workforce and to serve in the IDF.

… Our work highlights the respect and acceptance of Jewish diversity within North America as a hallmark of K’lal Yisrael.  We call upon our rabbinic colleagues in Israel to follow our example of acceptance and tolerance as it will strengthen Judaism and the Jewish people within Israel.

At the end of January, the JFNA board of trustees met in Florida. In response to the unrest in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, the Board of Trustees meeting in Florida on Jan 22-23 included a special emergency session featuring Member of Knesset Nachman Shai .

So far the JFNA Board of Trustees has not issued any statements on extremism.

On February 2, 2012, the chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees, the chair of the JFNA Executive Committee, and the president and CEO of JFNA issued a new joint statement condemning the extremist violence:

The Jewish Federations of North America unequivocally condemns all such acts of violence, intimidation, prejudice and coercion. We stand firmly and resolutely behind those in Israel who have spoken out publicly against such incidents, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and leaders from across the political spectrum. We call on those who have not yet taken a public stand to do so.

We take heart in the fact that citizens and civic leaders from across the country – including from within the mainstream Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox community – are now denouncing these reprehensible actions and the extremists responsible.

On behalf of the North American Jewish community, we will continue to convey in no uncertain terms our growing concern to Israeli leaders about the impact of religious extremism and actively pursue opportunities to forge a common agenda focused on greater tolerance, mutual respect and inclusion.

On the local level

On January 3, 2012, UJA Federation of New York introduced the JFNA statement on its website with a call to action by John Ruskey, Executive Vice President & CEO of the New York Federation. In the statement titled “Unite Against Extremist Acts in Israel” he wrote:

These events have heightened awareness of the growing divide, both in Israel and throughout the Jewish world, between those who seek to embrace Judaism and modernity and those who believe that Judaism and modernity are incompatible and therefore create more insular lifestyles. UJA-Federation of New York is, and has been for many years, investing in programs and efforts to open lines of communication and bridge these divides. At present, it is critical that the broadest range of Jewish leadership publicly express our collective outrage. Indeed, in the past few days, such statements have been dispatched from many corners of the Jewish world, from leaders of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular, Israeli, and North American communities. All have raised their voices to make it clear that we condemn these action

As of February 2, 2012, only 5% of Federations have published either the JFNA or JFNA Cabinet condemnation. What this signifies is not clear. It may represent indifference or even disagreement. However, it could just as easily reflect operational issues, for example, needing to wait for board approval before publicly posting any position statement.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Diaspora and Israel, Extremism | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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