WASHINGTON (JTA) — One of the most important challenges facing Israel is integrating its haredi Orthodox Jews, Israel’s ambassador to Washington told an Orthodox Jewish gathering.
“I see it as a huge opportunity, an untapped potential,” Ron Dermer said, this week addressing the Orthodox Union, a U.S. umbrella group with a mostly centrist Orthodox constituency.
“If it’s done in a smart way they can both be integrated and feel a part of Israeli society while at the same time they can keep the very unique special identities that they have,” Dermer said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government includes haredi parties for the first time since 2013.
The previous government was predicated on integrating haredi Orthodox Jews through legislation that many in the community vigorously opposed, including the extending the military draft to haredi males. Dermer suggested that this approach was misguided, likening it to a “sledgehammer.”
Dermer in his speech focused mainly on what he said was the existential threat Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose to Israel, and Israel’s opposition to the emerging nuclear deal between the major powers and Iran.
He alluded to President Barack Obama’s repeated assertion that he would only sign a deal that blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb.
“No one in the region believes this deal blocks Iran’s path to the bomb,” Dermer said.
“I know that is said all the time, ‘This deal will block Iran’s path to the bomb,’” he said. “If Israel believed that this deal blocked Iran’s path to the bomb we would be dancing the hora 24-7.”
Dermer suggested that Netanyahu’s objections to the deal did not get the attention they deserved.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about why the international community, why the president thinks what he thinks and believes what he believes and why he’s moving forward,” he said. “I would hope people would spend a fraction of the time thinking about why is Israel so opposed to the deal? Do we not want to see Iran’s path blocked to the bomb?”
Dermer also appeared to liken Obama’s posture to that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose administration before World War II did little to absorb Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe.
“Roosevelt, who was beloved by the Jews in the United States, Roosevelt was sort of forced into having this conference to deal with the Jewish refugee problem,” Dermer said, referring to the 1938 conference in Evian, France.
The difference between 1938 and today, Dermer said, was that the Jews now have a champion in the prime minister of Israel.
Also addressing the June 3 Orthodox Union gathering were French Ambassador Gerard Araud, who spoke about rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.); Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who is retiring and who has led legislative initiatives funding security for nonprofits, a key plank in the O.U. lobbying platform; and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who has become a legislative leader in combating efforts to boycott Israel.