Dozens of leading Jewish philanthropists and entrepreneurs, among them major donors to Israel, expressed their disappointment with the Israeli government’s decisions earlier this week to renege on a plan for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and to advance a controversial bill that would make the Israeli Chief Rabbinate the only body authorized to convert people to Judaism in Israel — a bill that has since been frozen for six months.
In an ad in Hebrew and English in several Hebrew newspapers Friday, 65 prominent figures signed their names to a message to the Israeli government and people saying they were “deeply disappointed and disheartened by the decisions.”
“As people who are invested in Israeli society and care about the people of Israel and the future of the Jewish state, we believe these decisions send an exclusionary and wholly unacceptable message,” they wrote.
Among the signatories are Jewish-American philanthropist and activist Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation; Israeli-American entertainment mogul Haim Saban, a major backer of the Israeli-American Council and a donor to the Democratic party; Lynn Schusterman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Schusterman-Israel Foundation; Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Taglit-Birthright and a hedge fund manager, and Seth Klarman, a hedge fund manager and philanthropist who co-owns the Times of Israel.
“The issues at stake are not simply about where we pray. They go to the heart of religious freedom and democracy in Israel and of who is considered Jewish,” they wrote in the ad, titled “Pluralism, Tolerance and Equality for All” in English. The Hebrew title is borrowed from Israel’s national anthem HaTikvah and reads “To be a free people in our land.”
“ALL Jews must be welcomed and treated equally under the law,” they said.
“We stand with and support the people of Israel who are demanding that their elected leadership recognize Israel as the homeland of all the Jewish people and prioritize pluralism, diversity and tolerance as essential to a strong and vibrant Israel,” read the message, which came days after a poll found that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis oppose the recent cabinet decisions.
“It is the vision upon which Israel was founded. It is the vision we will continue to support and in which we are invested,” they wrote.
The decisions announced earlier this week sparked an unprecedented uproar, with major Jewish groups across the board harshly condemning the developments. (On Sunday, in its first ever such move, the Jewish Agency called on the government to rescind its decision to freeze the Western Wall compromise.)
Major Jewish groups have implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resolve the crisis, warning of of erosion of support for Israel.
Some groups have intimated the decisions might impact financial contributions to Israel.
In an interview Friday, Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs said it was liberal Jewry’s “moment to be smart and strategic about all the money we give to Israel, and to contribute to things that align with our values [and] encourage the seeds of pluralism.”
Earlier Friday, Netanyahu announced that the conversion bill would be frozen for six months as a state-appointed committee would try to reach an “agreed-upon arrangement within our people.” No concrete progress has been announced toward resolving the impasse after the cabinet’s decision to freeze the so-called Western Wall compromise deal.