Several leaders of Boston’s prominent Jewish organizations met with Israeli Economic Minister Nir Barkat this month and warned the Likud member of Knesset that the current government’s push to overhaul Israel’s judicial system and its strident right-wing coalition has harmed Israel’s status in the United States, and also has increased antisemitism.
The meeting, which took place on June 8 during Barkat’s visit to Boston, was first reported by the Israeli news agency Walla News on June 16. According to the Walla report, Meron Reuben, Consulate General of Israel to New England, said participants included representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Jewish Community Relations Council, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the American Jewish Committee, who offered feedback to Barkat, a former Jerusalem mayor.
According to the Walla report, the news agency obtained a summary of the meeting that was sent by Reuben to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel. This week, the Israeli consulate general confirmed the accuracy of the Walla report.
“The meeting between Israel’s Minister of Economy and Trade, Nir Barkat, and leaders of the Jewish Community took place on Thursday, the 8th of June. It was an open and frank meeting in which many important subjects were broached,” Reuben told the Journal in a statement.
That summary, according to Walla, presented a growing disconnect between Israel’s government and American Jewry. “You put extremists in the government and we are supposed to explain their positions,” the heads of the organizations reportedly told Barkat.
According to the report, the Boston Jewish representatives told Barkat that they no longer feel that U.S. Jewry is a priority for the current Israeli government. “According to them, the [Israeli] government’s policy and conduct are causing heavy damage to liberal-Zionist Judaism in the United States,” Walla wrote. “They emphasized that the government should empower liberal Jews and not go against them.
“‘This is damage for years to come,’ they told Barkat according to the summary of the meeting.”
According to the report of the meeting sent to Jerusalem, the representatives also told Barkat that Israel’s policies are leading to less Congressional support. “The support in Congress is critical for Israel and is based on shared interests and values – a crack in the armor has been created and this is a real threat to Israel.
Criticism of Israel is also spreading to the local level in the United States. Israel is shooting itself in the foot and is undermining its position in the United States,” the summary stated.
Barkat was in Boston to participate in several events, including a 75th Israel anniversary celebration hosted by the Consulate General of Israel to New England at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley.
But Barkat never made it to the celebration. After the meeting with Boston representatives, he returned to his Boston hotel where he was met by Israeli protesters who object to Likud’s proposal to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. At the hotel, a protester tried to approach Barkat and was wrestled to the ground by one of the minister’s security aides. The protester did not reach Barkat, and was later taken to a hospital after complaining of an injury. After that incident, Barkat declined to attend the Wellesley event.
According to leaders of Boston’s Jewish organizations who attended, the meeting was off the record.
Jeremy Burton, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said he attended the meeting. “I will say that in every engagement we at JCRC have had with representatives of Israel’s government in recent months, we have consistently articulated the views and concerns of our local Jewish community regarding the potential impact of the government’s policies on our friends and partners who are living in Israel,” Burton said in an email to the Journal. “We have expressed our ongoing commitment to a shared vision of Israel as a secure, Jewish and democratic state for all its citizens. We have also conveyed concerns about the impact of changes in that commitment, by Israel’s government, on the enduring bipartisan commitment here to the US-Israel relationship.”
CJP spokeswoman Karen Kuwayti also said the meeting was off the record, but confirmed that the information reported “accurately reflects the conversation” that was held.
“Over the past several months, we have expressed concern about the rhetoric and policy proposals that could threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic character,” CJP President Rabbi Marc Baker said in an email. “Our community loves and supports Israel and our Israeli brothers and sisters. We have an ongoing commitment to engage, lean in, and remain in conversations, even during these challenging political times. Maintaining relationships and investing in Israeli civil society are crucial ways CJP promotes our values for a democratic and pluralistic Israel.”