On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, a group of 18 Jewish members of U.S. Congress sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressing "profound concerns" over Israel's treatment of Jews from the non-Orthodox denominations.
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The members of Congress, all of whom belong to the Democratic Party, wrote to Netanyahu that recent decisions by his government "seem to call into question the legitimacy and equal status of non-Orthodox Jews, the vast majority of whom live in the United States." The 18 members added that their concern is connected to their strong support for Israel over the years.
The group specifically mentions two recent decisions by the Israeli government – one, to freeze the plan to build an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, and the second, to promote a bill that would give the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate oversight over all Jewish conversions in Israel. The members noted that the latter, known as the conversion bill, has been put on hold for the time being, and expressed hope that its suspension would lead to a different kind of resolution, one that "respects and tolerates the totality and diversity of klal Yisrael."
"In addition to our own personal Jewish roots, each of us represents significant Jewish constituencies," the members note. Among those who signed the letter are some of the most veteran and senior Jewish members of Congress, such as Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey and Jerry Nadler, all three of whom are Democrats from New York; Adam Schiff and Brad Sherman, who are both Democrats from California; Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois; and Sander Levin, a Democrat from Michigan. All of them are considered strong supporters of Israel.
Their unusual message to Netanyahu over the High Holidays joins a previous letter sent to the prime minister by a group of seven Jewish senators, who also asked Netanyahu to reconsider his government's recent decisions in light of their effect on Israel's relationship with the American Jewish community.