Kafe Knesset for August 16

Just one side: President Trump’s controversial press conference, backtracking from his condemnation of white supremacists in Charlottesville in favor of blaming “both sides,”drew strong criticism in Israel. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – displaying a total misunderstanding of American Constitutional law – said “neo Nazis in the US must be put on trial. This was not the intention of the American Constitution. A democratic state cannot show tolerance towards such phenomena.” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid took issue with the idea of creating moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and counter-protesters, saying “There are not two sides. When neo Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous.” Similarly, former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said “with racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism there are no two sides. There is good, and there is bad. Period. The battle against anti-Semitism must be a joint one, with Israel as the state of the Jewish People, and leaders in places in which it raises its ugly head.” Livni didn’t miss an opportunity to criticize Netanyahu for waiting three days to come out against the neo Nazis, saying: “We must stand up against such phenomena immediately, and without hesitation .”But someone else in the Netanyahu home has a different view. Yair Netanyahu wrote on his newly-active Facebook account that “the neo Nazis scums (sic) in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past… However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger.” And Likud firebrand Oren Hazan, who never misses a chance to declare his undying love for Trump, said POTUS was right and “extremism and violence on all sides are prohibited and should be denounced!”

Abbas’ new bromance: Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority seems to have a different message for the US. Yesterday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sent Kim Jong-Un a telegram to wish him a happy Liberation Day, according to official PA media. Abbas praised Kim for making “the greatest sacrifices for the sake of its freedom and dignity,”and thanked him for his support. The comments, amid increased tension between the US and North Korea, have been widely interpreted as a way for Abbas to express his discontent with the Trump White House’s peacemaking efforts, and more specifically, his lack of a clear declaration of support for Palestinian statehood or opposition to construction in settlements. Earlier this year, Hamas also thanked North Korea for support. Maybe admiration of Pyongyang will finally unite the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza?

A compromise on conversion? A month and a half after the dramatic pluralism crisis with US Jewry following the government’s decision to freeze the Western Wall agreement and promote an ultra-orthodox conversion bill, the Prime Minister’s Office announced today that former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim will lead the efforts to find a solution for the conversion issue. Nissim, 82, one of the most respected veteran Likud ministers and the son of a former Chief Rabbi, is set to head a special committee that will deliberate the contentious topic. The Nissim committee is expected to submit its recommendations within 4 months. “Netanyahu believes Nissim’s vast experience will be able to facilitate a wide consensus to strengthen the Jewish people while respecting Israeli tradition.”.

Quick recap: A few days after the government approved the controversial conversion bill, which would give the ultra-orthodox rabbinate complete control over conversion in Israel, the PM decided to freeze it and establish a committee, while the Reform and Conservative movements agreed to freeze their Supreme Court petitions on the matter for 6 months. However, apparently, there is also a complete freeze in the dialogue between the PMO and non-Orthodox streams, as the Israeli Reform movement slammed Nissim’s appointment.

“Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister’s Office did not consult with the non-Orthodox streams about Mr. Nissim’s appointment and mission. This is a direct continuation of the one-sided aggressive policy the government has been pursuing on the Kotel and conversion issues, and as long as this is the style, it’s hard to see how one can promote wide consensus and Jewish unity,” Rabbi Gilad Kariv said in a statement. “We are interested in a dialogue with the government and committed to finding a path that will promise that conversion procedures will not be exploited, but we will continue to demand that every Jewish denomination in Israel and abroad will be able to perform conversions that will be recognized by the State of Israel.”

One of Nissim’s main goals will be to try and overcome the deep lack of trust between the streams and the Israeli government. The head of the Jewish Agency, Nathan Sharansky, told Kafe Knesset last week that he believes that “a compromise on the conversion issue is possible, but it will be harder to achieve after the last crisis. Both sides – the Reform and Conservative, and the ultra-Orthodox parties have nudged into their positions, and both sides have raised their demands.”

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