Israel Is Carrying Out State-sponsored Missionary Work

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is obsessed with ‘Jewish identity,’ led by cabinet member Naftali Bennett.

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It is not dialogue “to mend the rifts among parts of the nation” – a key plank of the Jewish Identity Administration operating out of the Religious Services Ministry. Instead, such efforts represent Orthodox Jewish missionary work sponsored by the state.

Four new projects of the administration have been approved in recent weeks, all to be implemented by private Orthodox institutions. It’s no coincidence that other denominations of Judaism and more pluralistic approaches have been overlooked.

The four new initiatives are “Judaism coordinators in the communities,” meetings between secular and religious families, deepening Jewish identity among university students, and “empowering the influence of synagogues in the community.” The budget for these programs is about NIS 15.5 million ($4.4 million), to be divided equally between the Religious Services Ministry and the private institutions.

The new projects are openly targeting secular Jews. But to disguise the preaching of Orthodoxy, the idea is to "appoint a person from within a community who will enact the process in a way acceptable to the members of that community. It will not be perceived as something from the outside.” This was stated when the Religious Services Ministry approved the plan for “Judaism coordinators in the communities.”

Creating a “connection” to secular communities will be the responsibility of the Orthodox families that have moved to other communities throughout the country in recent years to try to inculcate Orthodox values. Three of the four programs are based on these groups.

The latest news adds to the suspicions about the Jewish Identity Administration. While the administration’s meetings note that the groups have been “deeply and comprehensively checked,” it turns out that their only connection to the administration was a general get-acquainted meeting a few months ago with the administration’s head, Rabbi Avichai Rontzki. Also, these groups neither provided nor were asked to provide details of their activities.

When the cabinet established the administration, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said proudly that his party Yesh Atid had ensured that the administration would cater to “all parts of the Jewish people.” Lapid did not realize then, and probably does not realize now, that the administration is a grotesque example of the current government’s Jewish-identity obsession. This obsession is led by Lapid’s former “brother,” Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett.

The government would do well to keep its hands off its citizens’ religious beliefs, close this unnecessary and harmful institution and let Israeli Jews practice Judaism as they see fit.

Reform Jewish women. They're among the people overlooked. Credit: Lior Mizrahi/Baubau