WASHINGTON — The leaders of two major Jewish organizations on Wednesday called for a “resolution” to the Israeli cabinet’s decision to freeze an agreement for a permanent pluralistic prayer section, jointly overseen by non-Orthodox religious Jewish groups, at the Western Wall.
The cabinet move — which reneged on a January 2016 government-approved measure — has sparked a crisis between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and Diaspora Jewry, many of whom affiliate with non-Orthodox Judaism and say this decision leaves them feeling unwelcome in the Jewish state.
The chairman and executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, respectively, sent a letter to the Israeli premier Wednesday pleading with him to settle the issue.
The two said they sought “to convey what we have heard from our constituent organizations and from members of our community expressing concern about the decision taken by the government this past Sunday.”
They went on to tell Netanyahu: “It is imperative that the government move expeditiously to address this matter and come up with a resolution that is equitable to all, as you sought to do in the agreement that was reached before.”
Ron Lauder, who heads the World Jewish Congress, also put out a statement calling for a “resolution” to the problem, which he said was dividing the global Jewish community, although he did not directly address Netanyahu.
“I am deeply perturbed by the divisiveness that has arisen in recent days over the controversy surrounding this sacred site,” he said. “I have received messages from leaders of Jewish communities around the world expressing deep concern about the current situation.”
“For many of these communities, praying at the Western Wall is a rite of passage, and they are understandably anxious that they will not be welcome there,” he added. “I fervently hope that a resolution can be found in the interest of Jewish unity and in a spirit of mutual understanding.”
Since the announcement Sunday, which came following pressure from Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal, an internecine dispute has erupted between the Israeli government and international Jewish organizations.
Both the Jewish Agency and the Reform movement, which represents the largest denomination of American Jewry, cancelled scheduled meetings with the prime minister as a form of protest.
Moreover, Natan Sharansky, who chairs the Jewish Agency, warned that Jewish communities and individuals might reconsider traveling or donating to Israel because of the decision.
Indeed, there have been alleged threats of groups saying they will withhold financial contributions to Israel.
In his first public speech since taking office on May 16, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he heard such action was being considered, but did not identify any particular organization.
“Yesterday, I heard something that I thought I’d never hear before. And I understand the source of the frustration and the source of the anger. But I heard a major Jewish organization say that they needed to rethink their support for the State of Israel,” he said at a B’nai B’rith journalism awards ceremony in Jerusalem.
“That’s something unthinkable in my lifetime, up until yesterday. We have to do better. We must do better.”
Greenberg and Hoenlein — whose non-profit comprises 51 national organizations — said this tumult was hurting Jewish unity and could result in a loss of backing for Israel.
“Given all the challenges facing Israel and American Jewry, this is a time when ‘achdut,’ unity, is more important than ever,” the statement said. “A lack of unity could lead to an erosion of support, which has been identified by Israel’s National Security Council as a vital security asset for Israel.”
They further asked Netanyahu to “convey the sense of urgency regarding this matter” to his cabinet “and all those in a position to help resolve this issue.”