Diaspora ties

In N.Y., Lapid calls for U.S. Jewish leaders to maintain ties to Israel

Opposition leader says government’s proposed judicial overhaul is a threat to Israeli democracy; Orthodox group accuses him of encouraging antisemitism

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid met with top American Jewish leaders in New York on Monday night to garner support in the fight against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul and to urge them to maintain their connection with Israel despite current tensions, his office said.

The gathering was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and was attended by leaders of the country’s top Jewish organizations, across denominations and political affiliations. Lapid told attendees that the proposed changes to Israel’s judiciary presented “a threat to the democratic nature of Israel” and called on them to voice their opinions on it, his spokesman said.

At the same time, the opposition leader told “the heads of the organizations not to give up on the connection with Israel just because of the current government,” his office said in a statement.

The meeting, which was held in the offices of the UJA-Federation of New York, was attended by senior representatives from the Jewish Federations of North America, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, Orthodox Union, National Council of Jewish Women, Reconstructing Judaism, Zioness, Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel Policy Forum and National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, according to JFNA.

In light of the current turmoil in Israel, which has seen weekly large-scale demonstrations across the country for more than three months, mainstream American Jewish organizations have taken the near-unprecedented step of weighing in on internal Israeli issues, with actions ranging from specific recommendations and criticisms of current government proposals to calls for dialogue.

During the meeting, JFNA Board Chair Julie Platt – whose organization previously criticized the government’s proposal to allow the Knesset to overrule the Supreme Court with a 61-vote majority – stressed the need for compromise.

“We in the Jewish federation system have expressed our opinions where we felt it necessary to do so, as have other organizations represented here this evening,” Platt said. “But above all, together with so many other organizations in this meeting, we have expressed our strongest possible encouragement that every party must do its utmost to seek and find compromise.”

A spokesperson for Lapid said the meeting had a “very respectful atmosphere” and the American Jewish leaders appreciated that he met with them. “They all had the feeling that ‘we need to do something,’” said the spokesman, who attended the meeting.

Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff described the meeting as “productive” and affirmed that the attendees appreciated Lapid’s “willingness to take into account the views of American Jewry on important issues of the day.”

Daroff added: “We are hopeful that political leaders from all parties will continue to promote the political calm of the past two weeks. We commend those who are working in good faith under the auspices of President Herzog to promote a consensus-based compromise on judicial issues.”

Lapid’s visit was criticized by Am Echad, which is affiliated with Agudath Israel of America. In a statement, Am Echad said Lapid was exaggerating the ramifications of the proposed judicial reform and claimed he was encouraging antisemitism.

“It is disingenuous of you to accuse the government of undermining Israeli democracy and calling on American Jews to get up in arms to protect Israel from its own leadership,” the group said. “When you go back to Israel, we in the Diaspora will face the potential consequences of even more antisemitism, powered by your words.”

In addition to speaking with the American Jewish leaders, Lapid met with Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY).

“Lapid stressed to them that Israel’s opposition was strong and was standing guard and was maintaining the importance of the strategic connection with the U.S. based on shared liberal values,” his office said.

Nadler’s office similarly said that the two “reiterated the importance of maintaining a strong US-Israel relationship and protecting the democratic values that must remain at the heart of that relationship.”