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Netanyahu pulls out of JFNA summit in Tel Aviv amid planned protests

The Jewish Federations last week said it had decided not to boycott the prime minister as demanded by obscure and unnamed groups.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on judicial reform on March 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on judicial reform on March 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a scheduled address on Sunday night at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Tel Aviv, amid planned protests over the government’s paused judicial reform program.

“[The premier] has informed us that he is not able to appear at tonight’s event sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization…. We thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his message of friendship between our communities and his acknowledgment of the important role North American Jewry has played in building and developing the State of Israel,” the organizers of the conference said in a statement.

“We look forward to hearing from President Isaac Herzog tonight and wish him continued luck in advancing a compromise agreement on judicial reforms that will be acceptable to the broad majority of Israelis and strengthen Israel’s democratic institutions,” added the statement.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office told the Ynet news site that “scheduling issues and preparations for Memorial Day and Independence Day ceremonies” were the reason for the cancelation, and not the planned protests.

The JFNA last week issued a statement explaining why it had decided not to boycott the prime minister as demanded by obscure and unnamed groups.

“We know from your letters and emails that you care deeply and sincerely about the future of Israel. You have specifically questioned the participation of Prime Minister Netanyahu and other leaders of the governing coalition due to their role in the very contentious debate about Israel’s judicial system. Some have even called for the Jewish Federations of North America to withdraw their invitation. We respectfully disagree.

“First and foremost, the opportunity to hear from Israel’s duly elected president and prime minister is a symbol of Israel’s achievement as a modern democratic state. We look forward to welcoming these officials on this historic occasion,” said the JFNA.

“Throughout this tumultuous period, we have engaged in close dialogue with both those opposed to the judicial legislation and those supporting it, and welcome all continued conversations. We have also been awed by the powerful statement Israel’s citizens have made exercising their democratic right to protest. Given the immense importance of this debate and its implications for Jews all around the world, we understand that some will choose to exercise that right at the General Assembly. We will do everything we can to ensure that our attendees and security professionals respect these protesters, and expect that any protesters will respect our participants by demonstrating in a way that does not disrupt their ability to attend the event, participate, or listen to the speakers,” added the organization.

Herzog expressed optimism this weekend regarding the negotiations taking place under his auspices over the reform initiative, saying they are being held amid a “positive atmosphere.”

“There’s goodwill and there’s a positive attitude in the room, and things are discussed frankly and honestly,” Herzog told Arutz Sheva in an interview, adding that “all the hard issues [were] on the table” and the sides were attempting to reach an “amicable solution.”

“I’m definitely giving [the process] a chance. I will say, furthermore: I believe that the alternative is much worse, and all the parties concerned and their leaders know [this]. And more than that I truly believe that if we work well here, and if we work with trust, and we don’t let all sorts of forces undermine the process, we can reach a positive outcome,” the president added.

Earlier this month, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid met with American Jewish leaders in New York as part of a United States trip focused on the debate on judicial reform back home.

The meeting was hosted by the JFNA at UJA-Federation of New York’s headquarters in Manhattan and included senior heads of prominent mainstream Jewish groups in North America including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations.

Lapid has been a vocal opponent of the judicial reform legislation proposed by the coalition led by Netanyahu, who succeeded Lapid as prime minister late last year. Lapid has encouraged the mass demonstrations and a general strike that paralyzed the country and resulted in Netanyahu suspending the legislative push until the parliamentary summer session opens on April 30.

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