Troubling Legislation In The Knesset
Tue, 11/29/2011

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who will be completing his 16-year tenure as head of the Reform movement at the end of the year, has never been afraid to speak his mind. He has been an advocate for greater Torah study and observance of Jewish ritual within the Union of Reform Judaism, taken President Barack Obama to task for publicizing his disagreement with Israel over settlements, called on a major Muslim American group to engage in more dialogue with Jews, and chided J Street members, at their annual convention, about some of their criticisms of Israel.

Now Rabbi Yoffie has spoken out sharply against a number of proposed Knesset bills aimed at limiting financing from foreign governments for left-wing nonprofit groups. In an interview with Haaretz, the rabbi described the bills as “anti-democratic” and said they could have “a catastrophic impact on relations between Israel and the Jews of the diaspora — especially American Jews.”

Rabbi Yoffie certainly is not the first prominent figure to warn of the damage that passage of these bills could have on Israel’s image at home and around the world. But as a religious leader representing the largest denomination within American Jewry, his words are particularly significant. Especially when he notes that “when rabbis and Jewish leaders speak in communities and synagogues about the Jewish state, what they emphasize, with great pride, is Israel’s democratic character. But what will they say if these anti-democratic laws are approved by the Knesset?”

A number of human rights groups have described the bills as attempts by the right-wing Israeli parliament to silence critics of the government. Others worry about legislation limiting funds to groups in Israel viewed as too “political.” What is too political in Israel?

Most of the groups that would be limited or heavily taxed on monies received from foreign governments or government-supported foundations are those that champion Palestinian rights. European governments and the European Union provide tens of millions of dollars a year to Israeli and Palestinian groups highly critical of the government. Proponents of the legislation say Israel should be proactive, limiting foreign support for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) opposed to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Whereas left-wing NGOs in Israel rely on funding from foreign governments and their foundations, right-wing NGOs tend to receive donations from overseas private groups and individual donors. Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Florida real estate magnate Irving Moskowitz, and Evangelical Christian groups were cited by Rabbi Yoffie as able to “pour money into Israel for political purposes” on the right, while groups assisting those on the left would be penalized.

One does not have to support the views of left-leaning NGOs — and we have our issues with aspects of their agenda — to recognize the unequal application of the law if the proposed bills are voted into law.

Not to mention the diplomatic and political damage to Jerusalem, already struggling to defend its character in Western countries. Israel’s efforts to convince Europe to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be made all the more difficult.

But the primary reason to oppose the legislation is that it smacks of inequity, and credit goes to Rabbi Yoffie for saying so.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Comments

Governments will be banned form donating money to local NGOs regardless of their political point of view. This is equal. The fact that foreign governments tend to donate to the left wing groups does not mean the law is unequal. Yoffie just does not like the effect of the law so tries to dress up hi unhappiness as a "democracy issue". The right has big donors like Adelson and the left like Soros. Foreign governments have no business medalling in internal Israel issues. But Yoffie's statement does tell you were is heart lies politically. You can be sure that if foreign governments were donating to the right, he would object to that because that is undemocratic.

Does he not see the danger of foreign countries and foreign entities having a major influence on Israeli society. Financial assistance has made small sometimes miniscule groups have influence way beyond their numbers. Look at American elections and how important the financing is in determining the winner. Why should any society allow outside influences determine their future.

Read a book titled Brotherhood of Darkness. It sheds a great deal of light on the current state of US and world politics, etc. and especially the world view of the Jewish people.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.