J Street Deeply Disappointed by Israeli Decision on Egalitarian Prayer at Western Wall

June 26, 2017

Like millions of Jews around the world, J Street is deeply disappointed by and condemns the Israeli government’s decision to renege on an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

There has been no shortage of reaction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to surrender to pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties who wish to retain their monopoly on the practice of Judaism in Israel at the expense of the vast majority of Jews around the world. The agreement to carve out a space where women could fully express their Jewish identity and faith took years to negotiate, but was never implemented due to ultra-Orthodox opposition. Now, it has been jettisoned.

The government also bowed to the same pressure on Sunday when a ministerial committee voted to move forward a bill that would deny recognition of conversions performed in Israel but outside the state-sanctioned Orthodox system.

These decisions weaken the ties that bind world Jewry to Israel and are an unacceptable affront to the largest denominations in the American Jewish community – the Reform and Conservative movements. They send the message that the Israeli government does not regard Reform and Conservative Jews as authentic members of the Jewish people with an equal stake in the Jewish homeland.

Ironically, these decisions underscore one of J Street’s central contentions since its creation – that support for Israel should not mean blind support for the policies of the Israeli government. The current government, dominated by the far-right of Israeli politics, has made clear that it is out of step with many of the core values, beliefs and interests of the vast majority of American Jews. It has worked to undermine the two-state solution, eroded Israel’s democratic fabric and shown scant respect for the rights of women and minorities.

The point was made by the newly installed Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, Michael Siegal, who said: “We represent the Jewish people, not the government of Israel. The government of Israel has taken certain actions that threaten the Jewish people, and we want our communities back home to understand that support for Israel does not necessarily mean support for the government of Israel.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, who now serves as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office, said in a statement: “As far as I’m concerned, this is the abandonment of Zionism.”

It is more important than ever that those who love and support Israel, and who worry about its future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, tell the Israeli government that these decisions are totally unacceptable. They must be reversed.

This government cannot be allowed to sabotage the links that unite Jews around the world for the sake of the narrow political goal of preserving the prime minister’s tenuous coalition and his grip on power.

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