Young Israel head says defense of Netanyahu did not speak for all its synagogues
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Young Israel head says defense of Netanyahu did not speak for all its synagogues

Following backlash over statement on PM-backed merger involving extremist Otzma Yehudit, US Orthodox group’s leader says he was expressing his personal views

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JTA — The Orthodox Jewish group in the US that defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deal with an extremist right-wing political party says that it was not speaking for all of its member synagogues.

“The short NCYI statement released in response to two news outlet requests concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu represented my personal views and that of many on our Board but may not reflect the view of all of the Young Israel Synagogues,” the email, from Young Israel’s president, Farley Weiss, said.

On Monday, The National Council of Young Israel sent the Jewish Telegraphic Agency a statement defending Netanyahu after he orchestrated a merger between the national-religious Jewish Home party and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an extremist right-wing party. The statement called the merger a matter of political calculus and said, “We understand what Prime Minister Netanyahu did, and he did it to have ministers of the national religious and national union parties in his coalition.”

It was the first statement from a major American Jewish group defending Netanyahu’s actions. A range of major organizations have criticized it as normalizing a far-right party.

Farley Weiss (Screen capture: YouTube)

The statement was in the name of Weiss, but the subject line of the email said it was “a statement from the NCYI.” Nowhere did the email say that Weiss was not speaking for the organization.

But on Thursday, following some backlash, Weiss sent an email out to Young Israel member congregations clarifying that the statement represented the views of Weiss and many Young Israel board members, but does not speak for all member congregations.

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.

It supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.

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