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Pluralism in Israel

By Joelle Leib

During my time at Scripps College, a women’s college in Claremont, California, I have learned much about feminism and the critical fight for gender equality. Luckily for me and my female millennial peers, American women have made tremendous strides in the past few decades, so much so that Hillary Clinton is now a frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary. Yet as someone who also identifies as a Zionist as well as a feminist, a great deal must still be accomplished before these two identities can be completely reconciled.

Reform Jews in Israel and around the world are still feeling the wounds of a string of hurtful comments by Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay. In June, Minister Azoulay called Reform Judaism “a disaster for the nation of Israel,” and earlier this month, stated that Reform Jews were really not Jews at all. The comments have been met with widespread condemnation, including from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but we know all too well the parable of the feather pillow: once something is said, the hurt never fully goes away.

By Joey Rosen

On the plane back from my Year-In-Israel as part of my first year of rabbinical school at HUC-JIR, I had the privilege of sitting next to a man who had participated in a Christian mission trip in Israel. It was a pleasure sharing with him my journey that led me to rabbinical school, a conversation he might have never had before. I also got to enjoy a different perspective on seeing Israel for the first time, as I had no previous knowledge of how a Christian mission trip to Israel works. But before he said ‘God Bless’ and dozed off for the nine hour flight, he made a comment to me about how the Christians of America were cheering for us in our war against the Muslims, who are polluting the land with violence and treachery.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a coalition government after his Likud Party’s resounding victory in the March elections. As positions in the government have been given out to coalition partners, and agreements made about government priorities, we’ve started to get a sense of what this government coalition will mean for Israel. While laws have yet to be passed, political parties—and the Members of Knesset in them—are starting to stake their claims for how they want the government to respond to challenges throughout its term. Here are some of the developments we’ve been watching:

The Reform Movement’s slate for the 2015 World Zionist Congress elections won by a wide margin, according to results released Thursday. The Reform Movement’s ARZA slate won 56 out of the United States’ 145 possible seats (or 39% of the vote), which was more than the second and third place numbers of seats combined.

Ethiopian Israelis staged another protest Wednesday night in the heart of Tel Aviv, blocking the heavily-trafficked Begin Road. Some protestors had been promising violence, and some minor scuffles did break out after 8 p.m. Israeli time, but the protest was much smaller than those at the beginning of last month that saw thousands of Ethiopian Israelis turn out to protest discrimination and police violence.

Late last Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the final deals to form his new coalition government. The coalition, which has a bare majority of 61 of the 120 Members of Knesset, comprises five parties: Netanyahu’s Likud (30 seats), ultra-nationalist Habayit Hayehudi (8 seats), ultra-Orthodox Shas (7 seats) and United Torah Judaism (6 seats) and center-right Kulanu (10 seats). Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ, sent a note of congratulations to Prime Minister Netanyahu:

Over the last week, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest discrimination and unequal treatment by law enforcement against the Ethiopian minority in Israel.

One of the most meaningful things for me to do on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is to look at videos of Israel observing the holiday. Across Israel, loud sirens stop all traffic, business and activity for one minute as people stand at attention and remember. (If you haven’t seen this phenomenon before, I highly suggest you watch one of the videos.) This time of year asks Israelis to reflect on more than just the destruction of the Shoah as Israel turns to Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) just next week.

The past few months have been eventful for Israelis and those who care about Israel, in more ways than one. At Consultation on Conscience (April 26-28), there will be an opportunity to discuss current issues in Israel on Monday evening at 7:15 PM. The event will feature Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Dr. Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and Rabbi Noa Sattath, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). Earlier in the day, we'll also have the opportunity to hear from Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State Foreign Affairs and the chief United States negotiator for the Iran nuclear negotiations. Tune in for the livestream at youtube.com/racrj.