Jewish Agency takes out ad slamming Western Wall decision
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Jewish Agency takes out ad slamming Western Wall decision

Organization says freezing pluralistic prayer pavilion and granting ultra-Orthodox conversion monopoly 'endangers the unity of the Jewish people'

Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jewish Agency for Israel on Tuesday took out large advertisements in major Israeli newspapers saying that the government’s decisions to halt the creation of a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall and to restore the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Israeli conversion “endangers the unity of the Jewish people.”

On Sunday the cabinet suspended a 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. Also on Sunday, ministers voted to advance legislation to cement a de facto ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions to Judaism in Israel.

The Hebrew language advertisement from the Jewish Agency 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 ad 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.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

In a morning interview with Israel Radio, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who was intimately involved in making the now-nixed Western Wall deal, said that the problem was Israel’s refusal to recognize Reform Judaism.

“It all exploded because the State of Israel did not recognize 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 in an emergency meeting in Jerusalem, calling on the government to rescind its decisions. 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.

Also on Monday, the Jewish Agency canceled 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.

In a statement on Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to formulate a new plan for the site.

It also said construction work on the southern edge of the Western Wall plaza — where the pluralistic prayer pavilion was slated to be built — would continue uninterrupted.

Braverman said Monday that preparations for the pluralistic prayer section would continue, at the explicit instruction of Netanyahu. Referring to a barrage of criticism from across the liberal Jewish world directed at the prime minister, who was seen as caving in to ultra-Orthodox demands, he accused critics of trying to score political points and said they had “paid no attention” to the details of the decision.

The cabinet decision on Sunday coincided with a High Court of Justice deadline for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the agreement and construct the mixed-gender plaza near Robinson’s Arch by this week.

The conversion bill, which was propounded by the ultra-Orthodox parties, would pull the government’s recognition of private conversions, namely those not conducted by the Chief Rabbinate. Its approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday gives the proposal coalition support, although an appeal against it by the Yisrael Beytenu party could undermine its chances of advancing.

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