by Marilyn Flanzbaum, NCJW Honorary Vice President
Recently I had the privilege of going to Israel to attend the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on behalf of NCJW. The purpose of this Mission was to assess the region — what has happened and what it means for Israel, the U.S. and the world at large. Here is a recap of what I learned over the five-day conference:
Meeting the Hon. Tzipi Livni
Our meeting with Hon. Tzipi Livni solidified the fact that Israel is now facing more and more extremism. It’s coming to the point where there is a battle between the Supreme Court and Halakhic law. To solve some of the internal problems, Israel needs to make two decisions. The first is to be a Jewish and democratic state (not a Halakhic state) and the second is to move forward with the peace process with the Palestinians. There should be a constitution for Israel and the Law of Return should be the first item. Livni continued with a statement that everyone should serve in the army, everyone should learn the same things in school, and everyone should view Israel as a Jewish national state.
Meeting Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu
Netanyahu was very positive about the Jewish State and Israel’s genius in overcoming its small size and big problems. He stressed that Israel’s economic growth is dependent on three factors: a pro- business environment, building Asian markets, and the development of roads and real estate in Israel.
The issue that is front and center right now is the Haredi community – how to best integrate them into Israeli society and how to have them take on the same responsibilities as the rest of the population. There have been changes both in their education and their taking some military responsibility, but until all are serving in the army, all who are able to work are working, and all who are working are paying taxes, the tension will remain.
We are seeing the third generation of feminism in Israel. Now there are better laws against trafficking and they are enforced. Progress is being made regarding the right of agunot. At the same time, people who are running for political office have their pictures on the buses, but only if they are male.
A Bedouin woman spoke about her fight for equal rights, both as a woman and as an Israeli. She is fighting for the unrecognized villages that have no water, electricity, or infrastructure, to be recognized as part of the democracy and to be treated with equality and justice.
The younger generation of Ethiopian Jews in Israel is insisting on help in solving the problem of integration. There are 130,000 Ethiopians Jews living in Israel, mostly in segregated housing in poor neighborhoods. This affects the education of children and later their employment opportunities, making the integration of the community impossible. Even those with a Master’s degree face employment discrimination.
Meeting King Abdullah in Jordan
Jordan feels it is a major stakeholder in seeing that there is a peace treaty. They are involved with major issues that affect Jordan as well as Israel and the Palestinians: borders, security, water, and the refugees. Jordan believes in a two-state solution, and King Abdullah added that Israel must become part of the region, not just “in the region.”
Of course, there was much more discussed over the course of five days. Among the insights I gathered from the Conference was that the news in the English media differs from news in the Hebrew press. While the English papers are filled with news about the Israel Palestinian conflict, it was eye opening to hear first-hand about the other issues at the forefront of Israeli society and the region at large.