American Groups Turn Up Heat over Promises to Ultra-orthodox
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American Groups Turn Up Heat over Promises to Ultra-orthodox

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American Jewish leaders continued to express their opposition, displeasure and outright fury over Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s reported promise to the ultra-Orthodox parties to amend the Law of Return and redefine who is a Jew.

Shamir’s pledge was part of the price he paid for the support of the religious parties, who won 18 Knesset seats between them in the Nov. 1 elections.

Their backing, which would give Likud and its allies a governing majority in the 120-member Knesset, was the basis on which President Chaim Herzog asked Shamir Monday to form a new coalition government.

The proposed amendment of the “Who Is a Jew” provision would change Israel’s basic immigration law to deny automatic citizenship to persons converted to Judaism by Reform or Conservative rabbis.

According to the amended version, only conversions by Orthodox rabbis would be recognized in Israel.

Some of the statements issued by leaders of American Jewish organizations were the sharpest in recent memory in relation to Israel.

The American Jewish Congress, in condemning the Likud agreement with the religious bloc, called the political deal a “betrayal of Israel’s partnership with Diaspora Jewry.”

Robert Lifton, president of the AJCongress, and Henry Siegman, its executive director, warned in a joint statement Tuesday that the “deal” between Shamir and the religious parties “constitutes a betrayal of Israel’s partnership with Diaspora Jewry no less than a betrayal of the principles on which Israel was founded.”


In an equally sharply worded statement, Seymour Reich, international president of B’nai B’rith, said:

“A change in the definition of ‘Who Is a Jew’ would inflict a terrible wound on Diaspora Jewry and in the end prove harmful to Israel’s interest.”

The United Synagogue of America, representing the Conservative Jewish laity in America, sent a telegram to Shamir protesting his position on “Who Is a Jew.”

“We fear that the political question of ‘Who Is a Jew’ will tear the Jewish community apart. Israel must be for all Jews. The current Law of Return provides that recognition.

“Any change in the law will not only delegitimize large number of Jews, but will also tear Klal Yisrael asunder.”

Peter Kalikow, the multi-millionaire publisher of the New York Post and a major purchaser of Israel Bonds, threatened to end his support of Israel if the amendment is adopted, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot Tuesday.

“And I won’t be the only one,” he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, two major Orthodox groups in America called on the religious parties in Israel to pursue the change in the Law of Return.

The calls for Othodox unity came from the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe.

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