Community leaders line up to meet Israeli diaspora minister despite boycott push

The Board, UJS and the JLC all held discussions with Amichai Chikli this week


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Israeli minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli a 40 signatures debate, at the plenum hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on June 26, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** 40 ?????? ???? ????? ???? ?????? ?????? ??? ?????? ????? ????? ????

Israel’s diaspora minister has brushed off the small number of protesters who forced the cancellation of his visit to JW3, pointing out that he “did not feel any boycott” for the vast majority of his trip to Britain.

British Jewish leaders lined up to meet Amichai Chikli as he visited London this week.

Officials from the Board of Deputies, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), the Jewish Leadership Council and senior rabbis held meetings with Chikli in the face of action from a handful of boycotters who objected to his inflammatory comments about gay people and reform Judaism.

Only Jewish cultural centre JW3 “disinvited” the minister after facing the threat of protests while children were playing on the manmade “Tel Aviv beach” outside.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Chikli said: “I am always happy to see people gather together to wave Israeli flags!

"But seriously, I did not feel any boycott, since I met non-stop with diverse and very impressive leaders and organisations from the Jewish community, including PAJES and LSJS, which I intend to deepen our existing partnership with, Shelanu and our partners in the field of non-formal Jewish education, the great Shlichim of JAFI, Stand With Us UK, who are doing exceptional work, Campaign Against Antisemitism, UK Lawyers for Israel and many more.

“I also had the opportunity to participate at the Chief Rabbi annual conference and to discuss with over 100 rabbis of the United synagogue from all over the UK.

“I look forward to continuing our work together and developing new ways to strengthen the connection between the UK Jewish community and Israel."

The UK Jewish community stands out as "one of the most remarkable and resilient communities I have encountered," the minister claimed.

Chikli added: "The fact that almost 70 per cent of the children receive a formal Jewish education is a huge accomplishment within itself.

"There is a unique richness in the diverse Jewish identity of this community – including the ancient and very impressive Sephardi community, the growing ultra-Orthodox communities, and the vibrant liberal community – all of which have powerful leadership and committed to the future of the Jewish people.

"I was happy to meet religious leaders of all streams. I learned a lot from listening to their point of view, including their profound concerns and criticism which they brought up during the meetings.

"The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is deeply involved in strengthening and enhancing Zionist and Jewish education, especially through the formal education system of PAJES."

But the minister could not avoid difficult conversations with members of the community who expressed their deep concerns about the radicals in the Israeli government and the programme of judicial reform.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Board said: “President Marie van der Zyl and chief executive Michael Wegier from the Board of Deputies met the Minister for Diaspora Affairs on Tuesday, alongside leaders from other communal organisations.

"Issues of significant concern to many in the UK Jewish community were raised, including the planned judicial overhaul and the intense controversy it is causing.

“The conversation also focused on the pressures faced by the Israeli LGBT community, the rights of Reform Jews in Israel and the severe challenges facing Arab citizens of Israel. Marie and Michael urged the minister to share these concerns with his colleagues in government.”

A UJS spokesman said president Edward Isaacs had met Chikli. “He challenged the minister with Jewish student concerns regarding his prior statements and the future of Israel’s democracy,” he said.

“UJS will continue to promote a diverse, democratic, inclusive Israel.”

Rabbis Josh Levy and Charley Baginsky, the CEOs of the Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism, said: “We raised concerns…

“The meeting was frank, and not always comfortable.”

Rabbi Avi Lazarus, the CEO of the Federation of Synagogues, and Shmuel Yosef Davidson met Chikli as representatives of the Charedi community.

"We spoke about ways of strengthening the relationship and the Chareidi representatives noted that it is our community which is the most likely to have children studying long term in Israel and ultimately settling down there," Rabbi Lazarus said.

"[Chikli] showed genuine interest in the diaspora communities and wondered how he and his ministry can support them to enhance their Jewish identity and connection to Israel."

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