Netanyahu alienates Progressive Jews over the Kotel
Progressive Jews in South Africa have joined the massive international protest against this decision. The Jewish Agency for Israel, itself, is at the forefront of this protest.
The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday suspended this already government-approved plan to establish the pavilion at the Jerusalem holy site, which was to have had joint oversight by all streams of Judaism, following calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal.
“By most counts, there are about 14-15 million Jews in the world today… On Sunday, the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state made clear to many millions of them: Israel really doesn’t want you,” wrote Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.
He cited the Israeli Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman’s declaration: “The government’s decision to freeze the Western Wall arrangement sends a clear message to the entire world: The Reform do not and will not have access or recognition at the Western Wall.”
Rabbi Greg Alexander, a leading rabbi of the 6 000-strong South African Progressive community, says: “This is bad for world Jewry who will continue to be presented with one face of Jewish prayer – the Orthodox, separate-gender model, where a woman cannot lead a service, read from the Torah, or wear tallit or tefillin,” says Rabbi Alexander.
“This will definitely hurt relations between Israel and the Diaspora and weaken the connection of millions of Jews to Jerusalem. The Progressive movement alone represents nearly two million Jews across the world, who have a deep love for Jerusalem, but this stabs at their hearts.
“It effectively says that Israel does not see their prayer as legitimate,” Rabbi Alexander adds.
The establishment of a dignified and secure space for egalitarian Progressive prayer at the Kotel, was the result of years of intense negotiations, led by Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, according to a statement by the SAUPJ this week.
Last year he reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world’s Jewish communities.
Monica Solomon, chairman of the SAUPJ says: “South African Progressive Jews are proud and committed Jews with strong ties to Israel and our common Jewish heritage. Instead of allowing us to pray with dignity at the Western Wall, we are now faced with an uphill struggle to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together.
“Millions of Jews around the world – whether Progressive, Orthodox or secular – will not support this insulting decision.
“It is ironic that Israel, formed as a Zionist state, is one of the few places in the world where Jews do not enjoy religious freedom.”
The SAUPJ insists that Netanyahu’s decision is both short-sighted and “fraught with long-term danger”. However, the SAUPJ is “far from a call to sever relations with Israel”, as they don’t believe the damage irrevocable, “but it is certainly the sign of a union in deep trouble”.
The SAUPJ statement adds: “Israel should be doing everything it can to avoid alienating its core supporters, its own flesh and blood. Non-Orthodox Jews, in Israel and abroad, may not agree with everything that the Jewish State does, but the arguments and our passion, reflect the connectedness of the global Jewish family.”
The Jewish Agency for Israel took out large advertisements in major Israeli newspapers this week, saying that this government decisions “endangers the unity of the Jewish people”.
The advertisement said that the decisions “undermine the Zionist vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and Jabotinsky, to establish Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people”.
It called on Knesset members, “those we have met today and all the others, to take all necessary action to ensure that these dangerous and damaging steps are halted.
“The Jewish Agency calls upon the government of Israel to understand the gravity of its steps and change course accordingly,” it said.
The advertisement concluded by stating that the Jewish Agency “will continue to ensure that all Jews are connected to the story of the Jewish people and to Israel”.
Sharansky, who was intimately involved in making the now-nixed Western Wall deal, said that the problem was Israel’s refusal to recognise Reform Judaism.
“It all exploded because the State of Israel did not recognise the Reform,” he said. “This is a very dangerous message that can keep Jews away. We must do everything possible to change the message from the Israeli government.”
On Monday the Jewish Agency approved a resolution, passed unanimously by its Board of Governors, calling on the government to rescind its decision. It marked the first time the institution – which predates the existence of the State of Israel – has explicitly called on the Israeli Cabinet to walk back a decision.
The Jewish Agency also cancelled a planned gala event at the Knesset to which Netanyahu was invited. The agency’s board also passed an unprecedented resolution calling on the government to reinstate its previous commitment to create a permanent Western Wall prayer platform for non-Orthodox Jews.
“The prime minister himself is no ultra-Orthodox zealot,” writes Horovitz. “The prime minister, politically, however, has quite evidently decided that his future depends on keeping the coalition’s two ultra-Orthodox parties happy.”
Horovitz adds: “…Israel’s Diaspora-savvy prime minister, in capitulating to the narrow-minded demands against his better judgement, showed that survival in office now even takes precedence over the deepest sensibilities of the global Jewish nation he aspires to lead.” – Additional reporting from JTA and Times of Israel.