WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to bolster rights for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.
“As prime minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel — Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews,” Netanyahu said, earning loud applause Tuesday at the Jewish Federations of North America annual General Assembly, which is being held in Washington, D.C.
Netanyahu noted that he established a roundtable headed by his Cabinet secretary to address the concerns of non-Orthodox streams, and that Israel’s government was joining with the Jewish Agency in strengthening Reform and Conservative communities inside Israel.
Non-Orthodox streams made gains under the government headed by Netanyahu from 2013 until March of this year — the first in Israeli history not to include haredi Orthodox parties. The current government established after the March elections includes those parties, and U.S. Jewish groups have been concerned that it will roll back the gains.
Netanyahu appealed for Jewish unity in defending Israel — an appeal at a conference where Jewish officials were grappling with the effects of splits in the Jewish community during the summer’s debate on the Iran nuclear deal.
“There is only one Jewish people, there is only one Jewish state,” Netanyahu said. “We must work together to unite the Jewish people and secure the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu vehemently opposed the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached between Iran and the six major powers and backed by the Obama administration. The Israeli leader had hoped Congress would kill the deal, but now that it has survived congressional challenges, Netanyahu this week enthusiastically returned to working closely with the Obama administration.
“I deeply appreciate President Obama’s commitment to bolstering Israel’s security at a time” of increased turmoil in the Middle East, Netanyahu said.
Separately, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu at his White House meeting with Obama on Monday suggested U.S. recognition of Israel’s control of the Golan Heights as a signal to Iran, which is backing the besieged Assad regime in Syria.