Conservative Movement: Jewish Nation-state Law Will 'Erode Israeli Democracy'

Masorti movement's American, Israeli leaders call on Netanyahu to reconsider bill that 'risks attrition the rights of Arabs and other minorities' and of Israel's democratic values.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, Oct. 16, 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, Oct. 16, 2013.Credit: Haaretz Archive / Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The Conservative/Masorti movement has joined the growing list of Jewish groups calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from legislating the new Jewish nation-state law. Current versions of the law, Conservative leaders assert, “will erode the democratic character of Israel.”

A statement issued Sunday by the combined leadership of Conservative synagogues and rabbis in America as well as the movement’s Israeli branch called on “Israel’s political leadership to refrain from passage of any bill that weakens the social contract already effectively expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Laws which delineate Israel’s most precious ethical, moral and democratic political values.”

“Current versions of a new nationality bill now under discussion will erode, rather than strengthen, the democratic character of Israel. Strong and clear opposition by leading figures currently in office, including President Reuven Rivlin, raise important issues of the possible erosion of democratic freedoms resulting from this bill, the risk of attrition of the rights of Arabs and other minorities and the risk of further eroding values of religious pluralism,” the statement said.

The statement was signed by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly which represents Conservative rabbis, as well as by its president, Rabbi Bill Gershon; Steve Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the roof body representing about 900 Conservative synagogues as well as its president Richard Skolnik; and Shueli Fast, Chairperson or the Israeli-based Masorti Movement along with CEO Yizhar Hess.

According to the now-famous 2013 Pew Survey of Jewish America, 18% of American Jews identify with the Conservative Movement. The Conservative protest comes in the wake of similar criticism of the proposed laws voiced by other Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which includes representatives of 15 national Jewish groups in the U.S.

Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. Credit: AP

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