22 Young Israel synagogues oppose national leader’s defense of Netanyahu
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22 Young Israel synagogues oppose national leader’s defense of Netanyahu

US congregations call on their organization ‘to immediately cease making all political pronouncements’ in wake of its endorsement of unity deal between Kahanists and Jewish Home

Otzma Yehudit candidates Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Michael Ben-Ari, right, carry a mock coffin with a man wearing a Benjamin Netanyahu face mask during a protest in Jerusalem on July 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit candidates Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Michael Ben-Ari, right, carry a mock coffin with a man wearing a Benjamin Netanyahu face mask during a protest in Jerusalem on July 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JTA — Twenty-two synagogues that belong to the US national Orthodox Young Israel movement have condemned its defense of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political deal with a far-right party.

The synagogues called on the National Council of Young Israel to stop making political statements. Young Israel is an Orthodox synagogue association with 175 member congregations. Its political statements tend to the right.

“In recognition of the current, highly divisive political environment in the United States, Israel, and beyond, we … call upon NCYI leadership to immediately cease making all political pronouncements,” the synagogues’ statement said Friday, adding that “all past statements issued by NCYI leadership about political matters — including but not limited to its recent statement about Otzma Yehudit and the Israeli political process — do not represent the diverse views within our individual synagogue communities…”

The signatories included synagogue leaders from New York, New Jersey, California, Florida and other Jewish population centers.

Farley Weiss (Screen capture: YouTube)

Also Friday, 38 religious Zionist American rabbis signed a statement condemning the merger of Jewish Power, or Otzma Yehudit, an extremist party inspired by the late militant rabbi Meir Kahane, with the more moderate Jewish Home. Netanyahu had helped broker the deal in a bid to boost right-wing partners ahead of April elections.

“This violent, racist party has no place in the Religious Zionist movement,” the rabbis’ petition, organized by clergy at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, read.

On Monday, the National Council of Young Israel’s president defended Netanyahu’s orchestration of the merger. While many major American Jewish groups condemned the merger as normalizing bigotry, NCYI called it a matter of political calculus.

Following a backlash, NCYI’s president clarified that the statement does not necessarily speak for individual synagogues.

Thursday’s statement followed an announcement by Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt that she would be cancelling her membership at Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta due to the statement. That synagogue’s rabbi, Adam Starr, had also condemned the statement on Facebook.

“I cannot be associated with an organization that gives such racism, celebration of violence, and immoral policies a ‘heksher,’” or imprimatur, she wrote in an open letter posted to Facebook Tuesday.

“At this time of rising antisemitism, Jew hatred, and prejudice of all kinds, each of us – and not just our spiritual leaders – must speak out and act individually and collectively. And so I speak out with deep sadness that such a despicable action is given ‘cover’ by people who claim to walk in the ways of the Kadosh Baruch Hu,” a Hebrew term for God.

Deborah Lipstadt, author of the forthcoming book ‘Antisemitism Here and Now’ (Osnat Perelshtein/via JTA)

“This is a party that has racist views,” she said. “This is a party that condones murder. This is a party that condones the man who committed the largest mass murder in Israel by a Jew. Those are all things that I find despicable, and to say it’s just politics is really bad.”

One of the leaders of Otzma Yehudit hung a picture in his home of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish terrorist who killed 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994.

The extremist Otzma Yehudit is the spiritual successor to Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which was barred from the Knesset under a Basic Law outlawing incitement to violence and later banned entirely in Israel.

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