U.S. Jewish Philanthropist Suspends Donations to Israel Over Kotel Crisis, Conversion Bill

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Members of Women of the Wall pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, March 6, 2017.
Members of Women of the Wall pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, March 6, 2017.Credit: Daniel Shitrit

The government’s decision to freeze plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and to move ahead the controversial conversion law has begun to cost Israel in donations. Isaac “Ike” Fisher, a Florida real estate magnate and philanthropist, announced that he is suspending his donations to Israel, the Yedioth Aharonoth daily reported on Sunday. 

Fisher asked for the $1 million in Israel Bonds he bought just last week to be returned and said he plans to step down as chairman of the Miami Jewish Federation’s fundraising for Israel efforts. The philantropist will also stop funding specific causes he supports in Israel, the report said.

Fisher said he will not donate until the crisis with world Jewry is solved.

“It isn’t a matter of Reform or Conservative,” Fisher told Yedioth. “This is a serious act of contempt for the rabbis and leaders of our communities. [The ultra-Orthodox and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] say ‘you don’t matter.’ They say to our women ‘your Judaism isn’t Judaism.’ It is intolerable and we have an obligation to put an end to it.”

Fisher, who is also a member of the board of AIPAC, said he is suspending his involvement in the powerful American pro-Israel lobby. He worked with AIPAC in trying to convince the Congress to block the Iranian nuclear deal.

Last week, Fisher sent an email to Michael Oren, the deputy minister for public diplomacy and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., informing his of the actions he intended to take in protest of the cabinet’s decisions. 

“As you know, I actively support Israel. But I wish to inform you that my support is being suspended until the Israeli government changes its decision on the Kotel and conversions,” Fisher wrote to Oren. “Enough is enough. The time has come for the Israeli government to understand that its public includes all the people of Israel.”

A member of the Friends of Tel Aviv University, Fisher helps fund scholarships for TAU students in honor of his mother. He has given millions to projects, including social programs in underprivileged communities such as Yeruham and Or Akiva. For his son Cobi’s bar mitzvah the family funded a soccer team for Ethiopian youths in Pardes Hana-Karkur.  

Fisher did not elaborate on how he expects his withdrawal of donations to underprivileged Israelis to advance his cause.

Last Sunday, the cabinet voted to suspend plans to build a new egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, where Reform and Conservative Jews could hold mixed prayer services. Later in the day, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to move ahead with a bill that would deny the validity of conversions to Judaism undertaken in Israel outside the state-sanctioned Orthodox system. 

Both decisions were made under pressure from Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. Both were meant to avoid Supreme Court rulings in favor of the non-Orthodox movements in two pending cases.

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