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US antisemitism envoy ‘deeply disturbed’ by Western Wall egalitarian services fracas

Days after ultra-Orthodox extremists disrupted bar mitzvah services, Deborah Lipstadt says ‘such a hateful incident’ would be called antisemitism in any other country

A police officer stands between a group of ultra-Orthodox youths and a bar mitzvah ceremony at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on June 30, 2022. (Laura Ben-David)
A police officer stands between a group of ultra-Orthodox youths and a bar mitzvah ceremony at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on June 30, 2022. (Laura Ben-David)

US special envoy on antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt said Tuesday that she was “deeply disturbed” by an incident at the Western Wall last week in which ultra-Orthodox extremists interrupted bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies at the site’s egalitarian plaza.

“Deeply disturbed by the troubling actions of a group of extremists last week at the Kotel,” tweeted Lipstadt, who is visiting Israel this week.

“Let us make no mistake, had such a hateful incident — such incitement — happened in any other country, there’d be little hesitation in labeling it antisemitism,” she added.

Lipstadt was referring to an incident last Thursday in which ultra-Orthodox extremists, most of them children or teenagers, disrupted three bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies at the egalitarian plaza of the Western Wall, shouting, calling the worshipers “Nazis,” “Christians” and “animals,” blowing whistles and ripping up prayer books.

All three celebrating families had come to Israel from the United States to mark the right of passage at the Western Wall, choosing to hold their services at the often contentious egalitarian plaza, often referred to as Robinson’s Arch or Ezrat Yisrael.

The father of one of the bar mitzvah boys whose celebrations were harshly interrupted told The Times of Israel that the incident left him shaken.

“I, personally, was completely surprised by how disruptive they were and how bad it was,” the father said. “How can you disrupt a Jewish boy’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel? It’s supposed to be a mitzvah!”

“This is what the Nazis would do — and they called us Nazis!” he added. “We saw Israel at its lowest, at the holiest place for Jews.”

The incident was also condemned last week by the US-based Anti-Defamation League.

“We strongly condemn these acts of desecration and statements of hate,” the ADL tweeted. “Community leaders & others must unequivocally condemn this unacceptable behavior.”

Two ministers — Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel — and a Knesset member, Alon Tal, who is a member of the Masorti Movement, wrote tweets condemning the protests against the egalitarian prayers, but no other government officials made public statements.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the president of the Orthodox Ohr Torah Stone educational movement, called on authorities to ban those responsible from the Western Wall.

“These boys aren’t religious they are hoodlums dressed in [O]rthodox garb -committing multiple prohibitions (stealing, embarrassing the other, desecrating the name of God),” tweeted Brander. “They should be banned from the Kotel!”

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