Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) told a gathering of some 700 leaders of Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly Tuesday: “Unfortunately, you have heard that some legislation is ruining Israeli democracy. To paraphrase Mark Twain: the rumors of the death of Israeli democracy are greatly exaggerated. As Speaker of the Knesset, let me reassure you that nothing could be further from the truth. The Knesset is—and will remain—a beacon of democracy, and the commitment to these values is shared across the political spectrum.”
Speaker Edelstein also said that “greater efforts should be made to implement the Kotel Agreement, which would make our holiest sites a symbol of true Jewish unity.”
He added: “We have seen a renaissance of Jewish learning, likely unprecedented in both extent and diversity, and fostered new connections to our ancient traditions. The Jewish Federations of North America have been there throughout, to support, to help, to guide—and to challenge, as well. As we look to our shared future, I know we have strong foundations on which to build.”
“Today, however, there is a sense that the strong ties that once bound us have frayed,” the speaker noted. “That the things we once took for granted about the other no longer hold true. That Jews in Israel and the Diaspora feel alienated from each other. That the very topics that once brought us together now divide us.”
“It saddens me greatly that discussions of Israel and Zionism have become so painful as to be nearly taboo. Sometimes, this feels paradoxical to me,” Edelstein said, explaining, “We hear that Jewish students on campus distance themselves or become very critical of Israel because of the country’s policies towards its neighbors or certain religious denominations. But somehow, you bring those same students to Israel on a birthright trip, and suddenly they completely change their mind. I don’t believe one single cause can explain this rift. But we must not respond by searching for scapegoats.”
“It is true, as the title of this conference suggests, that we need to talk. But even more so, we need to hear each other—to listen with our hearts, not only our ears,” he said.
Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said during the event that Israel will remain democratic, but there is no doubt that this has become a challenge. She said that “unfortunately,” the Knesset passed the Jewish Nationality Law, adding that she intends to initiate a law which will transform the Declaration of Independence into the constitution of the state.
“This is something that could unify the Jewish people,” MK Livni told the Jewish Federations leaders.
MK Livni stressed that Israel must recognize the different streams of Judaism, otherwise, she said, “We will lose Diaspora Jewry.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), who took part in a panel discussion with MKs Itzik Shmuli and Yehuda Glick (Likud), announced that he was advancing a bill according to which any Jewish person who stays in Israel at least two weeks a year will be able to vote in the Israeli general elections.