Israel’s consulates in the US gird for protests over Western Wall
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Israel’s consulates in the US gird for protests over Western Wall

Memo lays out strategy for explaining decision to suspend deal on prayer pavilion; some federations said to reevaluate contributions to Israel

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

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 Foreign Ministry has reportedly instructed staff at its nine US consulates to prepare for mass Jewish protests following government decisions to suspend plans for a pluralistic prayer pavilion at Jerusalem’s Western Wall and to advance a bill granting the ultra-Orthodox a de facto monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel.

A memo sent to the consulates on Monday, published by the Haaretz daily, called on staff to clarify what it said was “a great deal of misinformation” by stressing that a previous government decision to create the prayer pavilion “was not nullified but suspended,” that the suspension gave the government “the time and space needed to find a genuinely workable solution,” and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — “compelled” to reach a decision because of an approaching High Court deadline — had actually refused the demand of ultra-Orthodox ministers to cancel rather than suspend the construction of the pavilion.

The memo also laid part of the blame for the crisis on non-Orthodox Jews, saying that “for reasons, related to both sides, the current plan has proven unfeasible.” It also asserted that the prime minister remained committed to the principle that “all Jews should feel at home in Israel and at the Western Wall in particular.”

The Foreign Ministry has been receiving reports of protests against the Western Wall decision from Jewish communities across America. One report from Chicago’s Israel consulate described “harsh messages of disappointment and pain,” according to Haaretz.

Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Dani Dayan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, July 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Some people were implying that the decision could impact donations and political campaigns, the Haaretz report said.

Another report, from the New York consulate, said that Gordon Hecker, CEO of the Columbus, Ohio, Jewish Federation, told Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, that he planned to stop all donations to Israel from his federation.

The same report said the CEO of the Northern New Jersey Jewish Federation, Jason Shames, said that the decision was likely to impact his federation’s relationships with the State of Israel.

In a statement to The Times of Israel late Wednesday, however, Shames said the account of his conversation with Dayan was inaccurate. “To be clear, while I expressed concern about the impact on local Diaspora Jewish views on Israel as a result of suspending the Kotel legislation, I in no way said that Federation would consider any change in our funding, support, or relationship with Israel on any level,” Shames wrote.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said there was no difference between “freezing” and scrapping the agreement, and that the prime minister was “just playing with words.” He said Netanyahu had broken a painstakingly constructed relationship of trust with US Jewish leaders, and had put narrow coalition interests above the wider needs of the Jewish people.

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