Conservative Jews skewer PM for ‘alternative truth’ about Western Wall deal

‘Shame on you, prime minister’ says a new video clip, which shows Benjamin Netanyahu enthusing about the unity of the Jewish people

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Members of the Reform movement and the Hebrew Union College confront ultra-Orthodox protesters and security guards while trying to enter the Western Wall plaza, in Jerusalem's Old City, November 16, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)
Members of the Reform movement and the Hebrew Union College confront ultra-Orthodox protesters and security guards while trying to enter the Western Wall plaza, in Jerusalem's Old City, November 16, 2017. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Masorti Movement in Israel launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for what it called his “presentation of the alternative truth” regarding the promised but not implemented upgrade of a pluralistic prayer area at the southern end of the Western Wall.

In January 2016, the government successfully negotiated a deal with the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall group and the Jewish Agency for Israel to provide a permanent, expanded egalitarian prayer space for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, the holiest spot where Jews can pray.

But six months later, under pressure from its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, the government froze the deal.

Netanyahu’s “alternative truth” was “painful, infuriating and spits in [our] faces,” the Masorti Movement in Israel — similar to the Conservative movement in the US — posted on its Facebook page in Hebrew.

The message was posted alongside a video contrasting what the prime minister told leaders of US Jewry in a satellite video interview with Jewish Federations of North America chair Richard Sandler at the General Assembly earlier in the month with the reality of what was agreed on but not carried out.

It charges that Netanyahu “talks of improvements but no improvements have been carried out despite the passage of almost two years since the agreement.”

Among the broken promises highlighted in the clip are that there would be one joint entrance to the main plaza and the adjacent egalitarian prayer space, that the new space would not be hidden away, that the Conservative and Reform movements and Women of the Wall would be official partners in managing the site, that the government would finance religious services provided there and that the official rules governing holy sites would explicitly state that the local custom was pluralistic and egalitarian.

Netanyahu, shown addressing world Jewry in English from his office, says, “I believe that the Jewish people are all one family. I believe that Israel is the home of all Jews and that all Jews should have access to prayer in the Kotel.”

“Shame on you, Mr. Prime Minister,” the video concludes.

The clip, according to the accompanying text, “reflects the mood — not just disappointment, also anger, and not over Hotovely but the things that the prime minister said to the leaders of American Jewry.”

The title page of a video clip made by the Masorti Movement of Israel to attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his part in freezing a deal to allow for an expanded egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall. (Screenshot)

On Friday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was forced to publicly apologize to Jews in the US for causing offense through statements she made about them.

Included among her remarks were that American Jews “never send their children to fight for their country” and that “most of them are having quite convenient lives.”

Earlier this month, the JFNA called on Israel to reverse its “divisive and damaging” steps to freeze the agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and its support of a bill that would grant a monopoly to Orthodox authorities in Israel over conversions to Judaism.

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, speaking at his organization’s General Assembly, November 10, 2015. (JTA)

Jerry Silverman, CEO of the JFNA, addressed the anger of non-Orthodox Jews in the United States and among the JFNA leadership over the Orthodox religious monopoly in Israel.

“Can Israel truly be the nation-state of the Jewish people when there is not official recognition of non-Orthodox movements in Israel?” he asked in a speech Sunday night to loud applause.

In July, the government told the Supreme Court that it planned to expand and upgrade a space for non-Orthodox prayer at the southern section of the Western Wall near Robinson’s Arch.

It was responding to a petition filed by the non-Orthodox Jewish movements and the Women of the Wall group calling on the state to create the permanent space for egalitarian prayer.

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