Facing wave of pressure, Ben Gvir cancels planned Tel Aviv prayer rally

Far-right minister says he is happy ‘the extreme left’ backed down from plans to protest future prayers; Gantz condemns ‘both sides’ of Yom Kippur clashes in city

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits south Tel Aviv on September 3, 2023, a day after Eritrean migrants rioted in the area. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits south Tel Aviv on September 3, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced on Wednesday that he was canceling his much-criticized plan to hold a gender-segregated prayer service in Tel Aviv on Thursday, days after a similar event on Yom Kippur devolved into heated clashes.

The far-right minister — who faced a wave of criticism from inside and outside the coalition over the plans — claimed that he was backing down after the secularist protesters promised not to repeat their “antisemitic actions” against any other prayer services.

“I am happy that the extreme left understood that there is no place for antisemitism against Jews in the heart of Tel Aviv,” Ben Gvir said in a statement. “We have one Jewish state, where Jews have always been able to pray in public places, anytime they want, in any place — and if necessary in the future I will make that clear.”

The minister announced plans for an Orthodox prayer service at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square in the wake of altercations that broke out in the city over Yom Kippur between worshipers holding gender-segregated prayer services — as is customary in Orthodox Judaism — and activists who say such practices are inappropriate in a largely secular city.

But even hardline members of the governing coalition — as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — called on Ben Gvir to cancel his event in order to avoid further fanning the flames of tensions between religious and secular Jewish Israelis.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai on Wednesday welcomed Ben Gvir’s cancellation of the event, saying in a statement that he was “happy that sanity won out. In days like these, there is no place for fanning the flames and for hatred among brothers. Tel Aviv will continue to respect the values of tradition and religion, alongside democratic values.”

Secular and Orthodox activists clash after the religious Rosh Yehudi group sets up a gender divider made of Israeli flags in defiance of a municipality decision at a public prayer service in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, September 24, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

Earlier Wednesday, National Unity party leader Benny Gantz said that both sides of the heated confrontation over Yom Kippur should take time for serious personal introspection.

Calling the Yom Kippur incidents “shameful,” Gantz said that those carrying out the gender-segregated prayer events in the city at the start and conclusion of the fast day were making deliberate “provocations,” while those who disrupted them “used violence against worshipers on the holy day and disrupted the prayer.”

“Both sides took the law into their hands, and mutual respect disappeared on both sides,” said Gantz in comments at a memorial ceremony for Druze IDF commander Nabiya Meri. “On both sides, there is a need for soul searching, as there is for all of us as a society.”

The events have been seen by some as an extension of the societal conflict unleashed by the government’s judicial overhaul, which has spread to multiple areas of life and overlaps with sharply divergent visions of the country’s future and its character.

Michael Horovitz and Canaan Lidor contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: