Israeli envoy Michael Oren calls for Israel support, respect for religious pluralism


WASHINGTON (JTA) — In two speeches calling for increased Jewish unity, Israeli U.S. Ambassador Michal Oren urged stronger Diaspora support for Israel and greater Israeli respect for the diversity of Jewish life in America.

"Sometimes it seems that we, Israelis and American Jews, not only inhabit different countries but different universes, different realities," Oren said in a May 4 speech in Washington to an American Jewish Committee gathering of about 400 young Jewish activists from around the world.

He offered similar remarks Sunday in Detroit to delegates of the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy group that brings together local Jewish community relations councils, national Jewish organizations and the largest synagogue movements.

"Ironically, at a time when support for Israel in this country is at a near all-time high — indeed it’s one of the few truly bipartisan issues — we Jews seem increasingly divided," Oren said in his Washington remarks. "Let me be clear: At stake is not merely Israel’s policies or rights of American Jews to criticize them. At stake is nothing less than the unity of a Jewish people."

Oren offered up a definition for being pro-Israel, describing it as one who works to ensure the survival of the Jewish state; is grateful to be living in a time when there is a Jewish state; appreciates the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and other threats facing the Israeli people; has strong opinions about controversies in Israel and accepts that there are divergent views; finds ways to contribute to and be enriched by Israel; and takes pride in Israel’s successes.

"The pro-Israel person sees Israelis — left, right, religious, secular — not as some distant ‘other’ but as part of a whole — a dynamic, creative, rambunctious and precious whole," Oren said in Washington. "The pro-Israel people are those who view even those who disagree with them politically as part of their people, as mishpochah," or family.

In both speeches, Oren also stressed the need for a greater concern for Jewish peoplehood and respect for religious pluralism.

"In Israel," he said, "to be pro-‘the Jewish people’ is to guarantee respectful space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, to maintain a dialogue over the conversion issue, to enable open debate about those Israeli policies that impact all of world Jewry."

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