Violence Against Reform Jews at Western Wall is Inexcusable

November 16, 2017

J Street is appalled by an incident at the Western Wall today when a delegation of Reform Jews was roughed up by Israeli security guards when they tried to hold a Torah-reading service.

According to Haaretz, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was hit and punched by security guards employed at the Western Wall, one of whom threatened to spray him with mace. This happened after around 150 Reform Jews, including the entire board of governors of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, arrived to hold a service in honor of four new rabbis. The guards are employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Orthodox-run organization that administers the site.

The newspaper said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, was detained for questioning by police after the incident, which he described as “one of the most violent” he ever witnessed at the holy site. Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, was accosted from behind by an ultra-Orthodox man who attempted to yank the Torah scrolls from her hands.

This kind of behavior is entirely unacceptable. We call on the Israeli government to investigate the incident and discipline those responsible. Beyond that, it should issue clear instructions that visitors to the Western Wall of all denominations, men and women alike, must be treated with respect and tolerance and that all have the right to access the Western Wall, which is a sacred space for the entire Jewish people and not just for the Orthodox.

We also call on the government to revive the agreement it reached after long and painstaking negotiations to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The government, under ultra-Orthodox pressure, suspended the deal last year.

The core problem remains the refusal of the Israeli government to recognize Reform and Conservative Judaism as legitimate ways of being Jewish. As long as their rights are denied, the gap between the American-Jewish community and Israel will continue to widen.

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