PM pleads for patience amid Western Wall, conversion bill row

PM pleads for patience amid Western Wall, conversion bill row

In 4th of July celebration remarks at US ambassador’s residence, Netanyahu says he’s committed to making every Jew feel ‘at home’ in Jewish state

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Fourth of July celebrations at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2017. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Fourth of July celebrations at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, July 3, 2017. (Screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pleaded for patience amid on ongoing row between the Israeli government and many in Diaspora Jewry over a pair of cabinet decisions surrounding the Western Wall and the since-frozen conversion bill last week that caused an uproar.

Speaking at Fourth of July celebrations at the residence of US ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Herzliya, Netanyahu said he was committed and “will remain committed to making every Jew feel at home in Israel, including at the Kotel [Western Wall],” which he repeated twice for emphasis.

“All we need is patience and perseverance. Patience, perseverance and courage is what the founders of America had in abundance,” he said.

Some 1,600 people attended the event, the first Independence Day gathering hosted by Friedman, who was sworn in as Israeli envoy earlier this year. Among the honored guests were the PM and his wife, President Reuven Rivlin, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen.

In a rare move, Friedman also invited a large delegation of Israeli settler leaders to the reception. Under previous administrations, settler leaders have only been invited to events at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which is responsible for the West Bank. Prior to becoming ambassador, Friedman was a major donor to the settlement of Beit El and said that Israel can annex the West Bank and retain its Jewish character.

On Monday, Netanyahu began his speech by praising the United States as a “most remarkable country” and the US-Israel relationship as “bastions of liberty, defending our common civilization.”

The Fourth of July, said Netanyahu, “is a celebration of the victory of American values, a victory for freedom, a victory of independence a victory for hope. Today we rededicate ourselves to victory, victory over barbarism, victory over terror, victory over tyranny, our two nations stand shoulder to shoulder as we have countless times before in our noble fight for freedom.”

The prime minister also heaped praise on President Donald Trump and his visit to Israel in May, saying he was “the first US president who chose to make his first foreign trip to Israel, and we will always remember that.”

Trump and his entourage made a two-day visit to Israel on May 22-23, after a first leg in Saudi Arabia. He was the first sitting US leader to visit the Western Wall, which Netanyahu indicated was an important moment for Israel.

“When he touched those stones, he touched our hearts,” Netanyahu said, before making his remarks about the brewing controversy surrounding the holy site.

Netanyahu has been facing harsh criticism over a pair of decisions last week to renege on a January 2016 commitment to significantly upgrade the pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall, and to advance a controversial bill critics say grants the ultra-Orthodox a de facto monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel by pulling government recognition for private conversions (i.e., those not conducted by the Chief Rabbinate). The conversion bill was frozen on Friday amid the uproar with Netanyahu announcing that a state-appointed committee would try to reach an “agreed-upon arrangement within our people” over the next six months.

The decisions were met with fierce opposition from American-Jewish groups, philanthropists, businessmen and various figures active in the Jewish world, as well as Israeli politicians, who expressed their dismay and disappointment. Some have intimated the decisions might impact financial contributions to Israel and warned of eroding support for the Jewish state.

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