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PM didn't scold, lecture; 'genuine' on religiuous pluralism

After meeting Lapid, US Jewish groups ‘heartened’ by his commitment to Diaspora

Participants note premier’s more inclusive approach to North American Jewry compared to Netanyahu’s, though one executive says the difference is largely of style

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (C) meets with leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York on September 21, 2022. (Avi Ohayun/GPO)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid (C) meets with leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York on September 21, 2022. (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with the leaders of dozens of North American Jewish organizations in New York on Wednesday, and those present expressed an appreciation for the premier’s commitment to strengthening ties with Diaspora Jewry.

“We are one family. You are my brothers and sisters. The government of Israel accepts all streams of Judaism. The special bond between Israel and Jews around the world is one of our top priorities, and we will show this. Israel must be, and will be, an open home for all Jews,” Lapid said, according to a statement from his office.

The gathering took place between Lapid’s meetings with world leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The meetings included representatives from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, an umbrella body of over 50 groups across the political and religious spectrum.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, the two organizations said they had discussed issues including antisemitism and Iran.

“We were honored to meet with Prime Minister Yair Lapid and grateful that he prioritized meeting with leaders of the North American Jewish Community ahead of his address to the United Nations General Assembly,” the two organizations.

“We are heartened by his shared commitment to strengthen Israel-Diaspora relations, and look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the Israeli government on issues of common importance with the North American Jewish community,” the statement said.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the meeting was “extraordinarily positive.”

“Prime Minister Lapid knows us, appreciates the strength of the North American Jewish community and we appreciated the strength and moral clarity of his leadership,” Jacobs said.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (C) meets with leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York on September 21, 2022. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Participants at the closed-door meeting told The Times of Israel that in addition to antisemitism and Iran, Lapid addressed the long-stalled agreement to formalize an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, the Abraham Accords and the Palestinian conflict.

Lapid said he takes criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians more seriously when it comes from Abraham Accords countries than from countries that do not have ties with Israel.

“The fear for a lot of people has been that the Abraham Accords was a distraction from the Palestinian issue. We got the sense that is not his strategy,” said one participant.

The attendee said Lapid’s determination to advance religious pluralism in Israel — at the Western Wall and more broadly — is genuine.

“He wants to be able to do more but explained how he is limited due to the upcoming election,” the participant said.

Three people noted a significant difference in the manner in which the meeting was held compared ones that took place when Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister.

“His attitude was different from that of Naftali Bennett’s predecessor,” one Jewish executive said, referring to Netanyahu. “It is based on an understanding that all Jewish people, including progressive groups, belong. It’s one of engagement, not lecturing, scolding or berating.”

A second participant said Netanyahu during meetings “appeared less interested in learning about our experience and hearing our concerns unless they aligned with his agenda,” while clarifying that he was “almost universally recognized as an effective diplomat.”

A third Jewish executive who attended the meeting pushed back on some of the Netanyahu criticism.

He acknowledged that Netanyahu has more of a lecturing style, but explained that he also provided lengthy, substantive responses to questions.

Lapid’s answers were shorter, which allowed him to cover more ground in the meeting, “but Netanyahu’s commitment to the Diaspora is no less,” he said.

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