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Conservative Leaders Call on Israel to Resist Demands of Orthodox Bloc

November 8, 1988
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Leaders of Judaism’s Conservative movement decried the results of Israel’s election Monday and called on the major parties to establish a government that would not have to accede to demands by the Orthodox political bloc.

“The elections have dramatically demonstrated the weakness of the present electoral system, which permits extremist parties, representing a small minority of the total population, to extort political, religious and financial concessions in exchange for their support of one of the major parties,” the Council of Conservative Leaders said in a statement released here.

The statement was signed by the leaders of eight major Conservative organizations, including Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Rabbi Albert Lewis, president of the Rabbinical Assembly; and Franklin Kreutzer, president of the United Synagogue of America.

The statement is a response to the strong showing in last Tuesday’s election by Israel’s Orthodox parties, which together won 18 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

Representing the balance of power between the rival Labor and Likud blocs, the religious parties are demanding that a law that would serve to delegitimize non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in Israel be adopted by a governing coalition.

The likeliest ally of the four religious parties that gained Knesset seats is Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud bloc.

Despite Shamir’s reassurances that he does not foresee “any decisive changes” in Israeli religious life, American Jews are worried that the next government will bow to the Orthodox pres- sure to amend Israel’s Law of Return to recognize only those conversions performed by an Orthodox rabbi.


The Conservative leaders warned that measures adopted by a narrow coalition with the Orthodox parties “would inevitably lead to the deterioration of the quality of Israeli society and the rupture of its unity with the Diaspora.”

They appealed to the leadership of Labor and Likud to resist the Orthodox pressure, and called for reforms of Israel’s parliamentary electoral system to “deny the power of blackmail to one or more extremist groups.”

The leaders’ statement was the second Conservative statement this year condemning Israel’s Orthodox bloc. In September, Schorsch accused the religious parties of repelling the majority of Israelis from religion and of blocking a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue by fostering a “messianic mind-set” among Israeli leaders.

In a telephone interview Monday, Schorsch said the movement feels justified in taking stands on Israeli politics when religious issues are in question.

The chancellor did not forecast what the movement’s response would be to major changes in Israeli religious law. “We’re not prepared to wait. It is before the coalition is formed that we have an optimum chance to affect the course of events. After the coalition is formed the die is cast.”

Schorsch was scheduled to depart Monday night for Israel. He plans to speak before the annual convention of Masorti, the Conservative movement in Israel. He said he hopes to be able to speak to Shamir or Labor leader Shimon Peres to convey his concerns.

Also signing the Conservative statement were Stephen Peck, chairman of the JTS board; Evelyn Auerbach, president of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism; Dr. Jerome Agrest, president of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs; Neil Norry, president of the Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel; Simon Schwartz, president of Mercaz, the Conservative Zionist movement; and Marshall Wolke, president of the World Council of Synagogues.

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