Isaac Herzog is fearful of a split in the Jewish world, adding that it is the main challenge facing his organisation, the Jewish Agency.
Speaking to Jewish News at the annual Limmud Festival in Birmingham, JA chair Herzog said: “This is one of my main challenges leading the Jewish Agency, the world’s biggest Jewish organisation. We are out there, trying to fill the void and build bridges. I see this as a historic challenge. I am fearful of a Jewish split.”
However, he added, there were “dark signs and also bright signs… There are Jews who question Israeli policies and are alienated and have turned their back on Israel and there is a huge lack of knowledge on both sides – among Israelis and the diaspora.”
Yet, on the other hand, there is “an enormous amount of love and affection and interactions. We bring almost 100,000 young Jews to Israel through various programmes and we send out 4,000 emissaries, including in the British Jewish community, who are doing incredible work.”
Regarding the differences in attitude between Orthodox youth movements, such as Bnei Akiva, and progressive Zionist groups such as RSY, LJY and Masorti’s Noam movement, Herzog said: “We cover all the those in the tent, but we are aware that there are different voices, there will always be different voices. But you don’t have to fear different voices, you have to listen and bring your own voice as well.”
However, he added the caveat that there “must be certain guidelines, such as delegitimisation and antisemitism and anti-Israel bashing is unacceptable. But an argument is legitimate.”
Herzog spoke to Jewish News the say reports emerged in Israel that up to 86 percent of Jews who emigrated to Israel in the past 10 years was not Jewish.
According to Hiddush, an organisation that advocates for greater religious plurality in Israel, data obtained under a Freedom of Information request from Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) showed that “154,474 immigrants who have moved to Israel in the last eight years under the Law of Return are family members of Jews but are not themselves recognised as Jews by any religious definition.”
It added that not all of the 25,375 who had arrived as Jews under the law were accepted as such by the state rabbinate.
Hiddush said the numbers showed “how urgent Israel’s need to be released from the Chief Rabbinate and religious coercion truly is,” and accused the Jewish Agency of having “chosen to gloss over the true reality of the Jewish people today, reflected in immigration data.” It urged the government to implement civil marriage and divorce.”
Both PIBA and the Agency denied the report, with Herzog saying: “It’s total bullshit. It’s all over the place and total nonsense, and its only aim is to be “harmful and insulting to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants to Israel who are living out the Zionist dream of building their future and their children’s future in Israel.”
He said the past decade seen more than 255,000 new immigrants arrive in Israel from 150 countries. Looking at the erroneous information reported about France, for example: In complete opposition to what was reported by this morning, according to Jewish Agency data nearly 97 percent of immigrants from France are Jews according to halacha and just 3 percent were eligible for Aliyah [only] under the Law of Return. The Ministry of Interior was right in clarifying the information reported on the number of Jewish immigrants.”