WASHINGTON (JTA) — The leading institutions of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements are among a coalition of liberal Jewish groups calling on American Jews to snub Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister, when he visits the United States next week.
But the Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization for Orthodox Jews, has confirmed to JTA that it will meet with Smotrich.
The non-Orthodox groups were among more than 70 organizations to sign an open letter denouncing Smotrich. About half of the signatories on the letter, which was published Thursday, are synagogues. It was organized by the Progressive Israel Network, a coalition of groups that support progressive policies in Israel, after Smotrich said earlier this month that a Palestinian village should be “wiped out.” He has since repeatedly walked back the statement.
The Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist umbrella groups represent the vast majority of synagogue-attending U.S. Jews and, in previous years, have welcomed senior Israeli officials to their events. Their presence on the open letter underscores the extent to which Smotrich and his far-right allies have alarmed parts of the organized American Jewish community.
“We pledge to not invite Smotrich to speak at our congregations, organizations, and communal institutions during his visit and to speak out against his participation in other fora across our communities,” the letter says. “We call on all other Jewish communal organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values. Our communities must reject Bezalel Smotrich and his party of hate.”
The boycott by the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist groups stands in contrast to the O.U., whose executive vice president, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he believes Smotrich “will use the opportunity to build greater understanding of and familiarity with the American Jewish community and its institutions.”
“We look forward to welcoming Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to our offices as part of his forthcoming visit to the United States,” Hauer said in a statement. “We appreciate every opportunity to welcome and interact with Israeli elected officials as it is our responsibility to build mutual familiarity and understanding that will contribute to the deepening and strengthening of the relationship between the State of Israel and American Jewry.”
Another Orthodox group, Agudath Israel of America, has no plans at this time to meet with Smotrich, its Washington director, Rabbi Abba Cohen, told JTA.
Smotrich arrives Sunday to speak to Israel Bonds, which sells Israeli government bonds to investors abroad and is closely tied to the Finance Ministry. Smotrich is also responsible for civilian affairs in parts of the West Bank, which he has called to annex to Israel. He also supports the judicial reform being advanced by the Israeli government, which would sap the Supreme Court of much of its power.
Smotrich has a history of remarks denigrating minorities. But he has drawn especially harsh criticism over the past week and a half after saying that the Israel Defense Forces should “wipe out” a West Bank village, Huwara, where a gunman killed two Israeli brothers. Israeli settlers rioted in Huwara following the attack, burning buildings and cars, and injuring residents. A Palestinian died amid the riots.
In the wake of Smotrich’s statement, the Biden administration said it would not meet with him. In recent days, Smotich has repeatedly walked back the “wipe out” remark, and his latest disavowal came in a lengthy and impassioned Facebook post on Wednesday. Smotrich wrote that a friend who is an Israeli combat pilot explained that Smotrich’s call to destroy Huwara could be taken literally, and that pilots believed they could get orders to bomb the village. Smotrich said his friend linked that concern to a recent decision by 37 reservist combat pilots to boycott part of their training. The main aim of that boycott was to protest the planned judicial reform.
Smotrich said that he meant, at most, that buildings lining the road through Huwara, which is a main West Bank throughway, should be removed.
“And so after I failed in this responsibility, and believe me I am still rattled by the thought that I was understood this way, I must apologize to the army and its commanders, especially to the Air Force, if I was part of a breach of the important trust between the Israel Defense Forces, the army of the people, and the elected political echelon,” Smotrich said.
He added that the experience of being misunderstood by his ideological opponents has made him consider how he may have misjudged those he disagrees with.
“If there is a giant gap between who I am and how I am perceived on ‘the other side,’ to the extent that I could be accused of calling for the murder of women and children, who knows what kind of gap exists between how I perceive people… on the other side, and who and what they really are?” he wrote. “Maybe I make the exact same mistake.”
His apologies have done little to assuage concerns. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, meeting Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant, alluded to the Smotrich dilemma when he decried inflammatory rhetoric as well as violence by settlers and Palestinian terrorists.
“I am here as a friend who is deeply committed to the security of the State of Israel. The United States also remains firmly opposed to any acts that contribute more insecurity, including settlement expansion, and inflammatory rhetoric,” Austin said. “And we’re especially concerned by violence by settlers against Palestinians.”
A number of other groups are not planning to meet with Smotrich, but would not elaborate further. Most prominent among them is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Haaretz reported Thursday that two rabbis known for their closeness to AIPAC the pro-Israel lobby, have joined protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, and Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party in particular. An array of left-leaning Jewish groups is planning to picket Smotrich’s speech.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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