'U.S. Jews concerned over state of pluralism in Israel'
Diaspora Min. Edelstein: U.S. Jewish groups say they cannot be expected to always support Israel.
The Jewish community in the Diaspora is concerned over Israel's standing as a pluralistic state, Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein said during a trip to the United States on Tuesday.
"One of the issues which keeps coming up at every meeting with the various Jewish communities is the subject of pluralism in Israel," Edelstein said, adding that while in Israel "the subject is taking up page eight in the newspapers, here it is something very much on people's minds, like the 'Women of the 'Wall' story."
The Information and Diaspora Minister was referring to an incident last month in which Haredi worshippers protested an attempt by 200 members of the "Women of the Wall" women's organization to conduct a massive prayer session at the Western Wall.
A month before that, police arrested Nofat Frankel who was praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, due to the fact that she was wrapped in a prayer shawl (tallit).
"I promised them that I would discuss the matter with the prime minister and the government secretary as soon as I return to Israel," Edelstein said, and to "create a team that could stay in contact with the various movements and federations to see how we can conduct this dialogue in a more effective way, since we are speaking different languages."
The Likud minister also said he felt that his fellow "ministers and members of Knesset should realize that there's a dialogue problem."
"There's an issue with Israel's image, and people have been voicing their frustration over many unanswered pleas, of a feeling that they have no one that would listen," Edelstein said, adding that "they said they supported and loved Israel, and that it can't expect support of everything it does."
Edelstein said he tried to make it clear that there was a "significant amount of people in Israel who think differently."
The Israeli minister also said that as far as he was concerted the issue didn't end with recognizing of the Reform and Conservative movements, adding that "an official recognition, some signed document, isn't going to automatically make problems like those that arose with "Women of the Wall" go away. There are issues to be dealt with beyond this or that legislation."
Edelstein also referred to the controversy surrounding the liberal nonprofit The New Israel Fund, saying he felt the situation reached "absurdity."
The New Israel Fund is "doing many good things, but, at the same time, some problematic ones as well. There's good reason to think that much of the material that made its way to the Goldstone report was supplied by organizations funded by that organization."
"I have never treated the Goldstone report as anti-Semetic, but it de-legitimized Israel in a very dangerous way, and we can see the result that while the UN praises Israel for its rescue work in Haiti, the internet is filled with stories of IDF soldiers harvesting organs there."
Edelstein was also critical toward the dovish lobby J Street, saying that while he didn't meet members of that group he felt that "there is a very simple rule: if you want to call yourself a lobby for Israel, you first need to check yourself and see if you could work with either Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Sharon."
"I'm not one of those squares yelling out 'you must support Israel, right or wrong,' but I'm leaving a question mark on the whole J Street issue," the Likud minister said, adding that if "J Street can't represent every government in Israel, they can call themselves something else than a lobby. Then, we'll speak to them."
J Street: "We don't represent the government of Israel"
J Street's Jeremy executive director Ben-Amy, reacted to Edelstein's remarks on Thursday, saying that the "minister clearly misunderstands what J Street is and how American lobbies that are not agents of foreign governments operate."
"We don't claim to, and in fact do not, represent the government of Israel. We explicitly reserve the right to agree with it at times and to disagree with it at times, as we do with the U.S. government," Ben Ami added.
The J Street director also said that his organization was "an advocacy group giving voice to the views and opinions of a large number of Jewish Americans who care deeply about Israel and its future, who are 'pro-Israel', and who care as well about America's national interest."
"For that ? in our democracy ? we don't need to ask anyone's permission. We are exercising our rights as American citizens," he said.
Ben-Ami added that "the next time the Minister is in Washington I extend a warm invitation to come and sit with us, learn more about us and see that we are friends and cousins who probably share many of the same hopes and fears for the future ? though we may disagree on our prescriptions for how to apply them as policy."
"Our hope is that the government of Israel and particular the Minister responsible for Diaspora Relations will actually attempt to 'relate' to us through dialogue, and to learn more about us," Ben-Ami added, saying that in that way "perhaps, he will come to see that our purpose is not to represent the government of Israel, our purpose is to represent moderate Jewish Americans in the construction of American foreign policy who believe, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in Herzliya this week, that Israel's very future is at risk without a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."