CJF Leaders Urge Likud and Labor to Table ‘who is a Jew’ Issue

The Council of Jewish Federations is urging Israel’s Likud and Labor parties to release a joint declaration removing the divisive “Who Is a Jew” issue from negotiations aimed at forming a government.

The request was conveyed Tuesday afternoon to Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arad by 125 American Jewish leaders, who met with the envoy for 75 minutes at the Israeli Embassy here. The leaders came from 42 Jewish community federations and 17 states around the country.

Leaders of Canadian Jewish federations were to hold a similar meeting Thursday with Israel Gur-Aryeh, the Israeli ambassador to Ottawa.

Shoshana Cardin, past president of CJF and head of the delegation that met with Arad, said the council also wrote to Israeli President Chaim Herzog, urging such a statement from Likud and Labor.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has promised Israel’s four religious parties that if they joined him in forming a government, he would secure Knesset adoption of an amendment to the Law of Return that would deny Israeli citizenship to non-Orthodox converts to Judaism.

But he has not yet succeeded in putting together a coalition. Herzog gave Shamir an additional 21 days to form a government on Monday, but he urged the Likud leader to put together a national unity coalition with Labor that presumably would not be beholden to demands from the religious parties.

‘DEEP PERSONAL PAIN’

At a news conference here following the meeting with Arad, Cardin pointed out that the Jewish leaders in the delegation, who represent 60 percent of U.S. Jewry, flew into Washington “solely for this purpose.”

“There were many expressions of deep personal pain — people who feel that they indeed are being threatened with disenfranchisement — and that reality cannot be dismissed,” she said.

The next step in CJF’s campaign is to deliver to Israeli leaders petitions calling for the removal of the “Who Is a Jew” issue from the political agenda.

CJF hopes to collect more than a million signatures by Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, the council is continuing to send Jewish leaders to Israel to lobby Cabinet ministers and Knesset members on the issue. Cardin said the fifth CJF delegation in less than a month was due to arrive in Jerusalem this week.

“We will keep sending delegations over,” she said. “It is no longer business as usual.”

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