Netanyahu’s office to match Jewish Agency funding to Reform, Conservative movements

Israeli women of the Women of the Wall organization praying just outside the Western Wall,  in Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 14, 2012. (Dan Balilty/AP Images)

Israeli women from the Women of the Wall organization praying just outside the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Dec. 14, 2012. (Dan Balilty/AP Images)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office will match funding given by the Jewish Agency for Israel to the country’s Conservative and Reform movements, according to an agency spokesman.

The Jewish Agency provides some $1.09 million each in annual funding to Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements, in addition to $546,000 in funding to Israeli Orthodox congregations. According to Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer, the Prime Minister’s Office plans to match that funding.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said in a speech to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly that the government “is joining with the Jewish Agency to invest in strengthening Reform and Conservative communities within 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 – all Jews,” he said.

Netanyahu also mentioned in the speech a roundtable of representatives from Jewish religious movements and government ministries formed to address the movements’ concerns. The roundtable was first announced in July, though JTA has learned that it has yet to formally convene. There has, however, been regular communication between the government, the Jewish Agency and non-Orthodox streams on their concerns.

Reform and Conservative leaders praised Netanyahu’s remarks as an indication of the government’s commitment to strengthening Jewish pluralism in Israel.

“I hope and am optimistic regarding the commitment of the prime minister, and his ability to fulfill what he promised,” said Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Israeli Conservative movement. “If Israel is the state of the Jewish people, all members of the Jewish people need to feel they’re a part of it.”

On Wednesday, haredi Orthodox politicians from the United Torah Judaism in Israel party criticized Netanyahu’s remarks and lambasted the Reform movement. Knesset member Moshe Gafni accused Reform Judaism of “stabbing the holy Torah in the back,” while Knesset member Yisrael Eichler accused Reform groups of funding anti-Israel activity and said they “incite against everything that is Jewish.”

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