Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wedging an “unprecedented” divide between Israel and Diaspora Jews and already dismissing Jews who do not live in Israel as ‘already lost.’
Facing the prime minister in the Knesset plenum, Herzog launched a blistering attack on Netanyahu for sending “deep shock and revulsion among millions our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora in canceling the Western Wall deal — that you initiated and then canceled,” and over “the very serious crisis that you brought on the matter of conversion.”
In June, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the cabinet had decided to freeze plans to expand the Western Wall plaza to include a pluralistic prayer space and would push forward with a plan to cement ultra-Orthodox control over deciding which Orthodox conversions abroad are accepted in Israel.
Jewish figures in the US and elsewhere have warned of a growing rift between Israel and Diaspora Jews over the government’s decisions, many of which seem to disregard non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, which are a sliver of the community in the Jewish state, but represent the lion’s share of Jews abroad.
The conversion bill was ultimately put on hold with a special committee appointed to evaluate the issue and the Western Wall plaza deal remained tied up in the High Court of Justice.
“Instead of expanding and embracing the Jewish people of all stripes, you are dividing them in an unprecedented way,” said Herzog. “Specifically against those very people who have always stood at Israel’s side at AIPAC and federation conferences, rallies… those who sing Hatikva with a catch in their throats.”
“You are quoted by several people who swear they heard you recently say that we’ve already lost those millions of Jews and therefore only those who are here will remain part of the Jewish people,” continued Herzog. “Unbelievable!”
As he spoke, Netanyahu shook his head and waved his hand, dismissing the allegation.
The prime minister then stood up in the Knesset plenary, prompted Herzog to goad him on whether he was leaving over these accusations. The prime minister returned to his seat moments later, though it was unclear why he had stepped away.
Herzog also skewered Netanyahu over his “remarkable disregard for anti-Semitic attacks in the US by the KKK, for adopting the style of the extreme and fascist right in the United States, and for the lack of a firm response to the incidents at Charlottesville.”
Netanyahu waited three days before condemning the neo-Nazi march in Virginia in August, which culminated in the death of a woman when a suspected white supremacist drove his vehicle into a counter-demonstration. Several others were wounded in the attack.
At the weekend rally, hundreds of white supremacists, members of the Ku Klux Klan and other radical nationalists marched through the university town, carrying torches, waving Confederate flags and swastikas and shouting slogans including “Jews will not replace us.”
Netanyahu’s tweet at the time did not explicitly refer to the events in Charlottesville, saying only: “Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.”
Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.