As Israeli leaders waited for Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to signal an easing of his uncompromising position on Jerusalem, they were pessimistic that it would come in his talks here this week with President Bill Clinton.
For years, the government of Israel has resisted calls by Conservative and Reform Jews to end the Orthodox monopoly on all religious issues in Israel. This week, Prime Minister Ehud Barak became their biggest champion.
Of all Israel’s “red-line” issues on which there can be no compromise in negotiations with the Palestinians, “the reddest line” is not Jerusalem, as commonly believed, but accepting Palestinian refugees, according to Yossi Beilin, Israel’s minister of justice.
Beilin, well known for his dovish views on and longstanding involvement in the peace process, is adamant in asserting that Israel cannot take in refugees claiming a right of return, and still maintain its Jewish character.
As criticism mounted this week against a top Israeli rabbi for comments which seemed to blame Holocaust victims for their own murders, the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party spiritual leader found support in an unexpected quarter.
American Rabbi Ronald Price, the head of a moderate Jewish group, told The Jewish Week that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s volatile words have been badly misunderstood, and unnecessarily prompted a firestorm of negative reaction from Israeli officials, American Jewish organizations and Holocaust memorial representatives.
James Besser |
Whether this week’s dramatic Camp David summit between Israel and the Palestinians succeeds or ends in rancorous failure, the results could be difficult for American Jews to swallow.
But Jewish leaders here say Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his government have done little to prepare the community for the emotional jolts if Israel makes the expected deep concessions on bedrock issues such as Jerusalem and borders.
A spate of vandalism against Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel has non-Orthodox leaders worried about a new, intensified level of physical violence against them by Orthodox opponents.
The concern by both American and Israeli leaders is being expressed following a window-breaking attack last week against the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem — the second attack at HUC in less than a month.
Two weeks ago, vandals torched a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood.