Sharansky tells envoys to convey Diaspora’s fury over cabinet moves

Amid anger over Western Wall, conversion decisions, Jewish Agency head says global emissaries should oppose efforts to divorce Israel from world Jewry

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky briefs the organization's emissaries around the world via conference call, June 27, 2017. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky briefs the organization's emissaries around the world via conference call, June 27, 2017. (The Jewish Agency for Israel)

The head of the Jewish Agency called on the organization’s emissaries around the world to act as conduits for Diaspora Jewry’s anger over recent government decisions on a pluralistic prayer plaza at the Western Wall and conversions, while also working to counter disillusionment and feelings of disconnectedness from Israel, caused by the moves.

Natan Sharansky spoke with some 200 Jewish Agency representatives, via a conference call at the end of the organization’s Board of Governor’s meetings, a day after the organization’s a dramatic split with Jerusalem for the first time in its history, when it directly challenged the state over the government decisions.

Emissaries should “listen to expressions of anger and criticism that are being heard in many Jewish communities and bring them to the attention of public figures and politicians in Israel,” a statement from the Jewish Agency issued Tuesday night read.

On Sunday, the cabinet suspended a government-approved plan to establish a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, which was to have had joint oversight by all streams of Judaism, following calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal.

The government also okayed legislation that would give the Rabbinate sole authority over conversions to Judaism in Israel.

The moves drew a storm of protest and criticism from liberal Jewish groups and the Jewish Agency.

Sharansky warned Monday that the decisions had led some Jewish communities and individuals to reconsider traveling or donating to Israel.

“Several American [Jewish] Federations have said that members of delegations no longer want to come… I am against that. On the contrary, we need more delegations,” he said.

In the statement Tuesday, Sharansky called on the representatives to oppose any effort to divorce world Jewry from the Jewish state.

Emissaries should “oppose calls for division, disconnection from Israel, and an end to support for the Jewish state; to clarify that Jewish communities have no future without a connection to Israel; and to emphasize that the right course of action is to listen to all voices in order to embrace the diversity of views and those who espouse them,” the Agency said in a statement.

Earlier Tuesday, the Jewish Agency for Israel took out large advertisements in major Israeli newspapers saying that the government’s decisions to halt the creation of a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall and to restore the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Israeli conversion “endangers the unity of the Jewish people.”

On Monday, the Jewish Agency approved a resolution, passed unanimously by its Board of Governors in an emergency meeting in Jerusalem, calling on the government to rescind its decisions. It marked the first time the institution — which predates the existence of the State of Israel — has explicitly called on the Israeli cabinet to walk back a decision.

On Sunday, the Agency canceled a planned gala event at the Knesset to which Netanyahu was invited.

In a statement on Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to formulate a new plan for the site.

It also said construction work on the southern edge of the Western Wall plaza — where the pluralistic prayer pavilion was slated to be built — would continue uninterrupted.

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