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JCRC Update | July 24, 2015 | Israel Divided and United

This has been a very unique and newsworthy couple weeks for Israelis and Zionists around the world. We know about the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, but what might have slipped past us are the remarks made by Israeli Minister for Religious Affairs David Azoulay, a member of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who said that Reform Jews are not real Jews.

Thankfully, this remark was universally denounced around the Jewish world and in Israel, with condemnations from Prime Minister Netanyahu and most members of his government. But Azoulay was not asked to resign, and his party was not evicted from the government. This is indicative of an extremely tenuous Israeli government that has the slimmest majority and depends on each and every Knesset member in the ruling coalition.

Israel’s parliamentary system is and has always been a fractious one, and governments rise and fall on the actions and votes of a few ministers. With 120 total seats in the Knesset, and a majority of 61 needed to form a government, small parties can have an amazing amount of power.

In the current government, it is the Ultra Orthodox parties that wield the power despite the fact that they only have a handful of seats. They have halted any attempts at greater inclusion in the military, and they have halted efforts at re-examining laws related to defining a who is a Jew, and they maintain their control over conversion.

Governments like this are polarizing, not just in Israel but in the greater Jewish world. When an Israeli government minister makes a statement questioning the Jewish bona fides of his fellow (although not Orthodox) Jews, it has an enormous effect.

All Jews in Israel deserve to be treated equally, and how they choose to practice their faith should also be respected and accepted. The Louisville Jewish community has spoken out against Azoulay and his unacceptable comments. We’ve communicated our displeasure to our partners in Israel and encouraged them to address this issue in a satisfactory manner.

I hope that Reform and Conservative Judaism take their rightful place in Israel as genuine and respected expressions of the Jewish faith. But with the current make up of the Israeli government and the fact that it is beholden to Ultra Orthodox parties, it will take much harder work to make this a reality.

As much as the “Who is a Jew” issue has divided Israelis, the Iran deal seems to be uniting them. Most of the parties in Israel, from left to right, have united behind Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to the pending deal between Iran and other world powers on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.

There are no shortages of opinions on both sides of this issue and, as I see it, both sides make legitimate arguments. This agreement with Iran is far from perfect and leaves many questions unanswered. But it is very possible this is the best agreement that could be reached and the only other alternative was armed conflict.

What is not in dispute is the fact that this agreement will embolden Iran, provide a huge influx of money, and will cause Iran’s neighbors to be quite wary of it. It is likely that Iran will use its newfound economic power to further the terrorist organizations they support (Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) and the murderous regimes they are backing (Assad in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen).

This too is at the heart of Israel’s near universal opposition to this deal. It is unfair for the World Powers who negotiated this deal to be flippant and dismissive of Israel’s (and other Middle East countries opposed to this deal) concerns.

I hope this deal will do what it proposes to do, but I also hope that the scrutiny it rightly deserves does not devolve into political posturing.

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