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US ambassador calls for unity among Jews

Commenting on the current crisis between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman calls for unity in the Jewish people.

“Yesterday I heard something that I thought I’d never hear. I heard a major Jewish organization say that they need to rethink their relations with Israel. We must do better,” he says at an award ceremony for the 2017 B’nai B’rith World Center Award for Journalism Recognizing Excellence in Diaspora Reportage.

The Jewish Agency, Union for Reform Judaism, Jewish Federations of North America and other groups that work on Israel-Diaspora relations have harshly criticized the cabinet’s decision on Sunday to walk back a compromise agreement to build a prayer platform for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.

“There’s plenty of room to cast blame, whether on the issue of the Western Wall or conversion,” he says, adding that he does not want to take sides in the disagreement over these issues. “But we can only resolve these issues by mutual respect and understanding.”

Friedman says he just returned to Jerusalem from a tour on the Golan, where he received a security briefing on various Syrian terror groups. Many of the Islamist groups fight each other and have only one thing in common, he explains: their hatred for Israel and Jews.

“Common enemies are not enough to unite us,” he says. “We should unite behind the miracle that is Israel.”

Friedman admits he has been “as guilty as anyone else” on that score, likely referring to derogatory comments he has made about left-wing American Jews. “It has to end,” he says, pledging to start treating all Jews with the respect they deserve. “We have to turn the page.”

Although organizers billed his speech as his “first policy speech since arriving in Israel,” Friedman did not address the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that the US administration is currently working to restart. He says only that US President Donald Trump is “very pro-Israel,” noting he was the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall.

— Raphael Ahren

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