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Rivlin attempts to soothe tensions in speech to affronted Jewish diaspora

Incoming Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is sworn in during a ceremony at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Thursday, July 24, 2014.
AP Photo/Ronen Zvulun, Pool
“It causes pain that the symbol of unity, the Wall of our Tears and Joy, has become a symbol of division."

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin faced a 3,000 strong-crowd at the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) General Assembly on Monday and delivered a speech that addressing major flashpoints in a growing rift between the Israeli government and Jewish diaspora.

“It causes such pain that the symbol of unity, the Wall of our Tears and Joy, has become a symbol of division and disagreement,” Rivlin lamented in reference to the ongoing dispute about egalitarian prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Israel’s decision earlier this year to suspend its plans to construct a mix-gender prayer space at the holy site has enraged leaders of the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism. In a double-whammy to the secular community, the Knesset also advanced the Conversion Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that would essentially give the Israeli ultra-Orthodox a monopoly over Jewish conversions that would permanently exclude thousands of Jews.

The JFNA on Monday passed a resolution slamming the Israeli government's two-fold decision, calling them “divisive and damaging steps,” declaring their intention to actively oppose the measures and urging, “the leaders of Israel to fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter and its detrimental effect on Jewish unity and world Jewry relations.”

AFP

“The centrality of Israel to all Jews is fundamental to our very peoplehood,” the resolution continued “and the support...and identification with it are one of the most important strategic assets of the state.”

Expressing hope that conciliation would soon be reached on the holy site, Rivlin stated: “I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue.”

"We must all respect Israel’s democratic process,” he added, saying that “whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state ‘religion and state’ is a political issue - maybe the the most explosive one.”

President Rivlin, since the advent of the polarizing legislation, has firmly emerged as a strong advocate for diaspora Jewish rights, championing unity across a number of public platforms. Many have cited this as the main reason for the deepening rift between himself and Prime Minister Netanyahu and a significant factor for Netanyahu’s no-show at this year’s JFNA annual conference.

Jack GUEZ (AFP)

- You challenge us. You help keep us strong. -

In an attempt to signal his unwavering support for Jews of all denominations, Rivlin reaffirmed that Israel, “was, and will always be, the home of every Jew; Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, traditional, Ashkenazi, Sephardi. Jews. We are all one people, and Israel is dear to all of us.”

“The Jews of the Diaspora, especially in North America, are full partners,” he said. “You are true stakeholders in this wonder called Israel. You stand beside us at times of crisis and joy. You dream with us. You challenge us. You help keep us strong.”

This support, he declared, “cannot be taken for granted.”

He also spoke of the need to unite “against anti-Semitism in all its forms; from the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, to terror attacks against our brothers and sisters around the world, from BDS on campuses, to attacking Israel’s legitimacy in the United Nations.” Whilst the need to preserve Jewish identity “and to pass it from one generation to the next.”

His words echoed much of what he had referenced in an open letter he wrote last Thursday that urged for the “unity of the Jewish people” amid deepening internal controversy.

Robyn BECK (AFP/File)

- Tensions on all fronts -

As regional tensions bubble across the Middle East, Rivlin’s speech was not complete without a mention of Israel’s most ominous foreign policy issue -- Iran.

“Iran is the number one exporter of international terrorism. It is a country whose leaders call openly for the destruction of the State of Israel,” he said. Referring to its growing establishment of “control through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and up to the Mediterranean”, namely its proxy terrorist group Hezbollah, he affirmed that this was not just a threat to Israel but a “threat to the entire world.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whilst stating his disregard for the hijacking of international bodies such as the UN that harms the chance of peace, he uttered some words of hope.

“We live side by side, and with each other.” he said, “we share the same land, the same holy places, the same water and the same sky.”

“There will be no peace, until we all understand that we are not doomed to live together, it is our destiny to live together.”

Alluding to a conversation he shared with President Donald Trump, Rivlin concluded, “the world needs a strong United States, Israel needs a strong United States, but the United States also needs a strong Israel.”

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I find greater solace attending a Roman Catholic high mass than any conservative, reform or Reconstructionist so called Jewish congregations. They are, all in all, a pathetic bunch of self-hating Jews.

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