Haim Ramon says he wants to make one thing perfectly clear:
“I am a pluralist,” the Israeli cabinet minister told The Jewish Week repeatedly in a phone interview Tuesday. After reading others’ account of his remarks at a Sept. 30 meeting with dovish American Jewish activists, he denounced them as “lies.” The private meeting was reported on the front page of last week’s Jewish Week.
“The only issue where I disagreed with [the activists] was where I told them that it was impossible politically to change Israel’s laws on marriage and divorce … and on conversion.”
The meeting was meant to brief sympathetic U.S. activists on the peace moves of Ramon’s government. But participants told The Jewish Week that topic was shoved aside by their angry clash with Ramon on equal rights for Conservative and Reform Jews in Israel.
A combative Ramon insisted the issues they locked horns on nothing to do with pluralism.
“Pluralism is if someone won’t allow a Reform synagogue to conduct its activities according to Reform ways,” Ramon explained. “I’ll join a demonstration about that.” Discrimination against Reform and Conservative institutions in government allocations is also “something I won’t tolerate,” he said.
“But they say because a Conservative or Reform rabbi is not kosher for conducting marriages and divorces in Israel, therefore it’s discrimination, and they’re persecuted.”
Even if his government did not currently need the support of Orthodox political parties to advance the peace process, he said, “You can’t change these laws.” The current Orthodox monopoly in these areas “is what the Israeli people have voted for,” Ramon said. And changing it “is not on the Israeli agenda; it’s impossible.”
American Jews “can’t dictate how we’re going to live in Israel,” said Ramon. “You can’t say, ‘if you don’t adopt what I want, I will take action against you.’ ”
The Israeli minister also skewered meeting participants for only peppering him on equal rights for Reform and Conservative Judaism. “If [non-kosher] food is forbidden, they won’t fight for this,” he said.
“They don’t care about other people’s civil rights — only the civil rights that concern them. In a way they’re hypocrites; they use ‘pluralism’ in vain.”
Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, one of the participants, rejected Ramon’s distinction between pluralism and the issues they raised.
“Excuse me, I have not seen Ramon take any position on equitable allocation of religious funds,” he said.“I wish he’d drop this issue already,” said Rabbi Hirsch. “It will take years for him to understand the pluralism issue.”