(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky publicly defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the Western Wall resolution crisis, saying that despite the ongoing failure to implement the deal, attacking him would not resolve the problem.
Sharansky was speaking at a conference of the Knesset Religion and State Lobby on Tuesday dealing with Israel-Diaspora relations, and in particular, the failure to implement the resolution to create a state-recognized pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall “We have to remember that it was the prime minister who initiated this entire discussion, he has invested a lot of energy in this… It won’t help us to attack the prime minister [on this issue],” said Sharansky.
He said that Netanyahu had told him recently that he would not end the current government over such an issue, and that doing so would not help anyway, because any new government that would be formed would have haredi parties in the coalition that would still veto the resolution.
Sharansky did speak out, however, against the vitriolic attacks of haredi ministers against non-Orthodox Jews, saying that every such comment wastes the hundreds of millions of shekels the Jewish Agency and the state invests in strengthening the connection between Israel and the Diaspora.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern had earlier spoken out harshly against the prime minister, stating that efforts to find a compromise had stopped and that he was therefore “fed up” hearing about meetings with the prime minister.
“Meetings with the prime minister don’t advance anything,” said Stern, adding that he tells leaders of the progressive Jewish denominations to tell Netanyahu not to come their various conferences or meetings.
Speaking more broadly, Stern criticized the stance of the Chief Rabbinate on issues such as conversion and marriage, saying that it had alienated the Israeli public and as a result “imported” issues such as assimilation and marriage outside of the rabbinate to Israel.
“The Israeli public and the Jewish Diaspora look at the kind of Judaism the state presents, its conversions, marriages and divorces… and say that if this is Judaism, they don’t want any part of it,” said the MK.
Sharansky was also critical of the Chief Rabbinate and the religious establishment over Jewish life-cycle issues, and pointed to what he said was “the irony” of a recent statement by the chief rabbinate in which it specifically referenced Ivanka Trump, and said that it does see her conversion as valid.
He noted that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein was the person who converted Trump, yet in a high-profile case this year the Supreme Rabbinical Court declined to recognize another convert of Lookstein’s who immigrated to Israel and tried to register for marriage.
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services lobbying group, noted that the chief rabbinate has now established a committee of five rabbis from the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and the Supreme Rabbinical Court to draft criteria for the recognition of conversions from abroad, but was dubious as to whether any of the rabbis on the committee had any understanding or connection to Diaspora Jewry.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie was similarly critical of the state’s policies towards Diaspora Jewry, saying that the religious establishment made decisions on such issues without taking into Jewish leaders and communities outside of Israel.
“Therefore in the Diaspora they feel that the State of Israel doesn’t count them. This is the price of the rift in relations, and this is the price of the prime minister’s betrayal of Diaspora Jewry,” said Lavie.
Rabbi Ronen Luvitz, president of the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah religious-Zionist lobbying group, said that the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative denominations need to unite in order to fight “extremism,” saying that Judaism in Israel was “exclusionary and not inclusive,” and that “the condescension of the Chief Rabbinate towards Diaspora Jewry is a fundamental problem.”