Monday, March 15, 2010

US-Israel Relations: A Low Ebb?

Below are links to articles that have come out over the past few days on the current crisis (or is "spat" a better word?) in the US-Israel relationship, along with the latest on the Conversion Bill. AIPAC has now chimed in, calling out the US for essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. This is a very unusual tack for AIPAC to take, coming out squarely against an Administration it will be cozying up to in just a week, at its annual Policy Conference:

The Obama Administration's recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State. Israel is America's closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America's fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. More...

I see a direct connection between the two current crises, the one between the US and Israel and the one instigated by the Conversion Bill. In both cases, Israel is being held hostage by an increasingly bold and untethered Radical Religious Right.

Links to recent foreign relations developments between Israel and the USA:

Israel envoy: U.S. ties at their lowest ebb in 35 years (Haaretz 3/15)
Obama's Turn Against Israel (Wall Street Journal 3/15)
Oren: Worst crisis with US since '75 (JPOST 3/15)
'Jerusalem construction will go on' (JPOST 3/15)
Netanyahu Offers Apology, but No Shift in Policy (NYTimes 3/15)
Wall Street Journal: Why is Obama against Israel? (Ynet 3/15)
A blessing in disguise (Ynet 3/15)
Are America and Israel drifting apart? (Washington Post 3/14)
Obama aide condemns 'destructive' Israeli homes plan (BBC 3/14)
Driving Drunk in Jerusalem (NYTimes 3/14)

Links to recent articles concerning the conversion bill:
US Jewish leaders concerned over conversion bill (JPOST 3/14)
US Reform Jews protest conversion law (Ynet 3/15)
Bill Making Many Converts Ineligible Under ‘Law of Return’ Faces Backlash (Forward 3/12)

Meanwhile, I just received this important briefing from the leadership of the Federations of North America:


March 15, 2010

A delegation of leaders representing Diaspora Jewry met today in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament,) with Member of Knesset (MK) David Rotem, the initiator of a controversial new conversion law.

The delegation was led by Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Chair Natan Sharansky and The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Senior Vice President Rebecca Caspi, director of JFNA’s Israel office.

MK Rotem, a member of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has been working to pass a proposal that will allow local municipal rabbis in Israel to perform conversions to Judaism. Some versions of the proposed bill being circulated also include a provision that could, in theory, prevent a convert to Judaism, who underwent conversion in Israel or in the Diaspora, from receiving Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. The Jewish Federations of North America has issued a statement strongly rejecting such a proposal, and has written directly to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the subject. (Click here for details on The Jewish Federations of North America's response.)

At the meeting, MK Rotem expressed his commitment going forward to consult with Diaspora Jewry on any issues involving conversion or the Law of Return. Explaining that no law will be passed before the Knesset’s Passover break, he also assured the group that no future bill will affect the status of conversions outside of Israel. Similarly, Rotem stressed that Prime Minister Netanyahu is aware of the importance of these issues for Jews around the world.

According to JAFI Chair Natan Sharansky, "From my conversations with the Prime Minister and the Government Secretary, it is clear that the law that is viewed as problematic by Jews in the Diaspora will not be passed during the current Knesset session which goes into recess on March 21. We have received assurances that we will be consulted in this process so that the views of world Jewry are taken into consideration."

Jay Sanderson, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who attended the meeting stated: “We were encouraged by the frank and open discussion with MK Rotem. It is clear to us that there is a sincere will on the part of Rotem, and indeed the government, to find ways to improve the situation governing conversions in Israel, without compromising the rights and dreams of Jews of all persuasions.”

Also attending the meeting were Richard Sandler, Chairman of the Board, Jewish Federation of Greater LA; Gary Weinstein, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas; Stanley Arthur Rabin, past President and senior lay leader, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and Barry Rosenberg, Executive Vice President, Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

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