Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman addressed the closing session of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly Wednesday in Tel Aviv.
Under the headline ‘We Need to Talk’, this year’s JFNA General Assembly highlighted tensions between the State of Israel and American Jewish leaders.
Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed US-Israel ties, describing with satisfaction the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries he has observed since first entering politics in the 1980s.
“There’s no question it’s gotten a lot stronger,” said Netanyahu, citing polling over the years, showing an increase in overall support for the Jewish state among the American public.
“When you look at the numbers, it’s quite startling,” regarding Americans’ perceptions of the Jewish state.
The Israeli premier touted President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, calling the move a high-point in US-Israel relations.
“He did something unbelievable. This is something that we’ve dreamed about since the founding of Israel, and he did it.”
“I would say that the state of the American-Israeli relationship – the alliance, has never been stronger.”
But, Netanyahu added, Israel must work to expand outreach among demographic groups where support for the Jewish state is weakest, listing off “African Americans, Hispanics, young people”.
“Things are never as good as you think – but they’re also never as bad as you fear,” the Prime Minister continued, playing down perceptions of a left-wing backlash against Israel and Zionism in the US.
Turning to relations between Israel and the American Jewish community, Netanyahu said he was working to promote the vision of Israel as a ‘home for all Jews’.
“I want Israel to be the home of every Jew. I don’t care if they’re Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or completely secular.”
Netanyahu responded to claims from some in the American Jewish community that his government’s stance on “core issues” of religion and state were challenges to Israeli democracy.
The Prime Minister explained that his government’s policies on issues like conversion to Judaism, recognition of the Reform Movement, the Sabbath in the public sphere, and non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall were part of a long-standing tradition in Israel politics of dealing with religion-and-state issues piecemeal.
These policies are part of “slowly evolving arrangements,” said Netanyahu, adding that the primary driver for change was “the evolution of the Israeli electorate,” alluding to demographic changes and the growth of the haredi population in Israel.