For the JC April 2021
Noam, the Zionist youth movement affiliated to Masorti Judaism, has boycotted an event involving Israel’s UK ambassador Tzipi Hotovely over what they claimed was her history of making “racist and inflammatory statements”.
But while Noam’s boycott was not raised during the session, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the movement’s senior rabbi, left Ms Hotovely in no doubt about the concerns of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and the diaspora.
Noam, after prolonged discussion with Masorti, decided to hold an alternative event on Wednesday night, featuring Hannah Arnaud, Noam movement worker and a member of the Zionist Federation National Council; Tamar Moshkovitz, an Israeli activist who supports the work of the Centre for Jewish Non-Violence with Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills ; and Awdah Hathalin, an English teacher and activist from Umm al Khair in the South Hebron Hills.
Those who decided to attend Rabbi Wittenberg’s conversation with the ambassador — an event initiated by the Israeli embassy — saw him finding common ground with her on pride in Israel’s achievements in Jewish learning and education, on the importance on action to protect the environment and stop climate change, and on the ongoing centrality of Israel and Zionism in Jewish life.
However, according to Masorti chief executive Matt Plen, “he also staked out clear positions which differed from the ambassador’s comments in the session and her previously expressed views. In particular, he emphasised that Masorti and Reform Jews did not have full recognition in Israel and that Palestinian and other non-Jewish Israelis continue to suffer from inequality. Rabbi Wittenberg also argued that we must welcome difference and debate, including engaging with human rights organisations such as New Israel Fund, B’tselem and Breaking the Silence”.
When Ms Hotovely insisted that Israel’s non-Jewish minorities were treated equally and that non-Orthodox Jews felt at home in Israel, Rabbi Wittenberg commented: “There are streams of Judaism who don’t feel at home, who feel precluded, who don’t have the same access to government funding, that their conversions and marriages are not respected.”
Rabbi Wittenberg spoke of a friend, the son of an Imam in a small village near Jerusalem. “He’s very pro-Israel and tells his Muslim friends, this is the country where you’ll find equality… and then he says ‘but I never feel it.’ There’s a very serious journey still to travel and diaspora Jews from all the movements want to help Israel travel it”.
Dr Plen said: “While Ambassador Hotovely’s views clash with some of our deeply held values – articulated most clearly by some of our young people through Noam – I believe engaging with her was the right decision. I’m proud that Noam organised an alternative educational event on issues of racism and democracy in Israel society. The fact that Masorti Judaism can hold on to core values while encompassing diversity and respectfully challenging those we disagree with is surely one of our movement’s greatest strengths”.
In a statement, Noam said: “[Hotovely] has consistently refused to recognise Palestinian heritage, referring to the Palestinians as ‘thieves of history’ and invited Lehava – a racist organisation denounced by the President of Israel – to speak at the Knesset.
“We are a Zionist youth movement. We believe in the importance of engaging with Israel as it is, with all the joys and challenges which come with that. Despite this, we feel that Hotovely’s past comments on the Palestinians are beyond the pale.
“We are also deeply committed to Masorti Judaism. We do not want to listen to and applaud a woman who has denigrated non-Orthodox Judaism. To reward her with a platform after these hurtful comments is a deep humiliation for our community”.