Barak vows to increase tolerance

JERUSALEM, Oct. 24 (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has pledged to find ways to allow people from all Jewish religious streams “feel full partnership” in Israeli life.

Barak made his comments in a speech at the Conservative movement’s Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Israel.

The speech, which took place last week on the fourth anniversary of the Hebrew date of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, is believed to be Barak’s first appearance before a non-Orthodox movement since taking office earlier this year.

“I am certain that the blessed activities of the Schechter Institute will continue to be an important element in building a more tolerant society that respects the other and itself,” he said, speaking at an awards ceremony for the Liebhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance sponsored by the institute.

Barak also said he hoped to find a way to increase pluralism either by implementing the findings of the Ne’eman Commission, a government-backed committee that recommended several steps to resolve religious-secular tensions in the Jewish state, or through “another forum,” which he did not define.

He added that the institute played an important role in creating such a feeling by opening up its classes to all, supporting the traditional Jewish education network in public schools “and by representing Conservative Judaism in a very dignified way.”

Conservative leaders welcomed Barak’s remarks.

“The very fact that he was present at a gathering of our Conservative rabbinic seminary and that he directly addressed our movement was a positive sign,” said Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of the Masorti movement, as the Conservative stream is known in Israel. “I also have a very positive feeling that government ministers are taking the pluralism issues seriously.”

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