Is­raeli min­is­ter ‘pro­foundly wor­ried’ about dif­fer­ences with di­as­pora Jews


A SE­NIOR Is­raeli min­is­ter has said he is “pro­foundly wor­ried” about the grow­ing num­ber of dif­fer­ences between his coun­try and Jews around the world.

Naf­tali Ben­nett, who leads the Jewish Home party and sits in Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s se­cu­rity cabi­net, said a new pe­riod was emerg­ing in Jewish his­tory and Is­rael now needed to do more to in­vest in the di­as­pora.

“There is a prob­lem with in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Ju­daism. In Is­rael, if you are sec­u­lar, you chose not to be Or­tho­dox. That is the mea­sur­ing stick,” he told jour­nal­ists dur­ing a visit to Lon­don.

“Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive move­ments are vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent. I don’t know why but when you are tra­di­tional [in Is­rael], you are Or­tho­dox. This cre­ates a very big dis­con­nect.”

Is­rael’s re­la­tions with the di­as­pora were strained this sum­mer when Mr Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment can­celled plans to cre­ate a mixed-gen­der prayer space at one of Ju­daism’s holi­est sites, the main West­ern Wall plaza.

The new space, which would have been along­side the ex­ist­ing male- and fe­male-only ar­eas and seen all wor­ship­pers use the same gate to en­ter the plaza, is a key de­mand from pro­gres­sive Jewish cir­cles.

But the de­ci­sion to scrap the plans co­in­cided with pro­pos­als tabled in Is­rael’s par­lia­ment to grant full con­trol of con­ver­sions within Is­rael to the Strictly Or­tho­dox.

“We had a bad week in the sum­mer when Is­rael back­tracked on the deal we had to cre­ate an egal­i­tar­ian prayer space and the bill for con­ver­sion was passed at the same time, cre-

Naf­tali Ben­nett at­ing the per­fect storm,” Mr Ben­nett said.

He said a sep­a­rate, egal­i­tar­ian pray­ing plat­form al­ready ex­ists 30 me­tres to the south of the plaza, but ac­knowl­edged the is­sue had high­lighted dif­fer­ences between Is­rael and di­as­pora Jews. “Is­rael must in­vest re­sources in the Jewish di­as­pora, even if they don’t make aliyah. We can do this be­cause we’re a strong coun­try and we don’t need their funds; we can now in­vest out­wards,” he said.

“If I were prime min­is­ter, per­haps my third ob­jec­tive would be the Jews abroad. I would in­crease the bud­get to give them more of a say in our politics — not a com­plete say, be­cause they don’t serve in the mil­i­tary. “We’re en­ter­ing a new pe­riod in Jewish his­tory.”

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