“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….These decisions weaken the ties than bind world Jewry to Israel and are an unacceptable affront to 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 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.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited the head of the Jewish Federations of North America and the directors of the Jewish federations of New York, Chicago and Cleveland to his office on Monday to discuss the freezing of plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, but representatives of the Reform or Conservative movements were not invited. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and other members of his Agency’s board of governors were also snubbed.
Israel’s Air Force struck two targets in Gaza hours after a rocket launched from the coastal strip landed in southern Israel. A rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area at the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council on Monday night. The rocket caused no injuries or damage, according to the IDF. The Code Red siren warning of an incoming strike did not sound since the rocket was headed toward an unpopulated area.
Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger lambasted the government on Monday over what he termed its efforts to curtail freedom of expression. We are witness to repeated attempts to challenge freedom of expression, he wrote at the end of a ruling issued by the court. “The contexts are varied and creative: from freedom of expression in journalism and the arts through freedom of expression in academia to freedom of expression in the political realm,” Danziger said.
Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office said it was working to ensure that Jews of all streams can feel comfortable praying at the Western Wall after the Cabinet voted to freeze an agreement that would have made a permanent space there for women and men to pray as they wish. Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman said in a statement Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had issued directives instructing that work be expedited to create a comfortable egalitarian section to the south of the Western Wall plaza. A small prayer area near that site, known as Robinson’s Arch, has been in use since 2000.
A veteran Likud minister, known for his close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urged world Jewish leaders on Tuesday to fight against a controversial new conversion bill supported by his government and reassured them that it was far from a done deal. Speaking at a special session in the Knesset, Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for national security and foreign affairs, told Jewish leaders from North America: “You have to go on fighting and not surrender and not give up hope and not give up optimism. The conversion bill is not final. There are issues to be discussed and you need to make sure that leaders of every faction in the government understand what this means for all of us.”
The Conservative movement on Monday slammed the “deplorable” cabinet decision to shelve plans for a pluralistic worship area at the Western Wall, adding its voice to a chorus of criticism over the reversal of the hard-won agreement. A statement from a collection of leading Conservative groups also lambasted the Knesset’s initial approval of a bill that would cement the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday that he “was not aware” of any tensions at the recent meeting between Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Spicer was asked about reports that came out over the weekend saying that the two had a tense meeting last week in Ramallah, during which they discussed how to renew the peace process and also how to deal with the thorny issue of Palestinian payments to families of convicted terrorists.
In a race against time, Jewish groups and members of Congress are pressuring U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to drop the post of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. The position was initiated by Congress with strong bipartisan support in 2004, but will be unstaffed from July 1 due to budget cuts. The Anti-Defamation League organized a conference call last Tuesday with the two special envoys who held the position during the Obama administration, Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman. The two former envoys warned that leaving the position unmanned will hurt efforts to fight anti-Semitism at a time when it is growing and spreading around the world.
The opposition Zionist Union faction said on Monday that it will submit a no confidence motion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, over the cabinet’s decision to shelve a hard-won deal for a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall and the initial approval of a bill that would cement the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions. “The government’s decision against the Western Wall as well as the conversion issue severely harms US Jewry, Israelis, those who seek to become a part of the Jewish people, and any one else who wishes to pray at the Western Wall according to their customs,” the party said in a statement.
Danny Zakem writes, “The relationship between the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties has a long history, but in the current government, the parties are closer than ever….Unlike party leaders from the center and left, Netanyahu has no backbench opposition from his own party to his agreements with the ultra-Orthodox. In fact, the situation is very much the opposite. Knesset member David Amsalem released a statement in support of suspending the Western Wall compromise, and Knesset member Miki Zohar proposed a new law to ban the opening of businesses on the Sabbath. The list goes on and on. In contrast, the Labor Party and, of course, Yesh Atid, have a significant liberal wing, which would voice vociferous opposition to any agreement such as the one Netanyahu reached with the ultra-Orthodox. That is why, among all the secular parties, the Likud is the most natural partner for the ultra-Orthodox.”
Jonathan Lis reports, “With one week to go until the Labor Party’s leadership primary, there’s still no clear front-runner among the eight candidates. The problem, say many party activists, is that none of the eight seems to offer much hope of returning the party to power….Either current party chairman Isaac Herzog and MK Omer Bar-Lev could handily defeat Peretz in the second round in this manner, activists said. But a Peretz match-up with former minister Avi Gabbay or MK Erel Margalit would likely be much closer, they added….many activists want to elect Herzog only to replace him with another, more charismatic leader: He has promised to establish a joint ticket of center-left parties whose leader would be chosen in an open primary. Last week, party activists were whispering about the possibility of crowning former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in this manner.”
Joshua Nacht writes, “A new survey conducted by the Israeli Regional Initiative shows that a vast majority of Israelis would accept a comprehensive regional peace agreement that included a two-state solution and a normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab states. This survey presented Israeli adults with a detailed explanation of the outlines of a regional agreement. It found that 50 percent would support such an agreement, while another 34 percent would be willing to accept it.”
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