Is Israel committed to all Jews? US Federations chief has his doubts

Government action on Western Wall, conversion ‘raise doubts’ country is acting as nation-state for all Jews, says Federations head.

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August 29, 2017 08:00
3 minute read.
Is Israel committed to all Jews? US Federations chief has his doubts

Members of "Women of the Wall" pray with a Torah scroll during a monthly prayer near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City July 24, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

 
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The state’s actions over the Western Wall, Jewish conversion and other religious issues has raised doubts that the country is acting as the nation state of all the Jewish people, Jewish Federations of North America president and CEO Jerry Silverman said.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Silverman said the indefinite suspension of the Western Wall agreement in June this year, and the preliminary approval of legislation that would grant the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over conversion, denigrated Diaspora Jewry and sent a powerfully negative message to Jewish communities outside of Israel.

His comments come as the High Court of Justice prepares to hear the oral arguments this Thursday over a petition by the progressive Jewish movements and the Women of the Wall organization demanding either the implementation of a government resolution to create a state-recognized prayer site for egalitarian prayer at the southern end of the Western Wall, or to create an egalitarian section at the main plaza.

Silverman observed that the sudden suspension of the Western Wall agreement after three and a half years of negotiations and the conversion legislation, which would permanently prevent non-Orthodox converts in Israel obtaining citizenship, “devalued 85% of Diaspora Jewry” and created doubts as to the country’s commitment to its brethren abroad.

“The Western Wall, the conversion and mikve legislation, puts into question if Israel is fulfilling its promise of being the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he said. “Is there a responsibility and value belief [in Israel] that Israel is the state of all Jewish people?” Silverman noted that since he returned from Israel to the US after the crisis erupted in June, Jewish communities have expressed their frustration to him, including from Jewish youth, something that very much worried him.

“The issue is about the Israel-Diaspora relationship and the sense of commitment; it’s about them wanting to have an Israel that they can love and that loves them back for who they are as Jews,” he said. “It’s important in our relationship for Israel to understand the importance of a strong Diaspora that works for Israel unequivocally and unhesitatingly.

These kinds of differences and challenges we have seen of late make it very hard, and create a challenge for the younger generation.”

As the scheduled hearing approaches on Thursday, the government asked the High Court again on Monday for another delay to the hearing, or to simply reject the petitions.

In its response to the petitions submitted in July, the government argued that its planned renovations to the existing egalitarian section at the Robinson’s Arch site will suffice the needs of equal access to the Western Wall for progressive worshipers.

On Monday, it filed a notice to the court that bureaucratic and administrative problems it has experienced in finalizing an agreement for the management and maintenance of the site was another reason to delay a decision on the petitions for six months.

The request comes on the same day the progressive Jewish movements and Women of the Wall underlined their demands either for the implementation of the government resolution to create a state-recognized prayer site for egalitarian prayer at Robinson’s Arch at the southern end of the Western Wall, or to create an egalitarian section at the main plaza.

They argued that if the major terms of the original Western Wall agreement are not implemented then it would not suffice the demands of equal access and that the only measure guaranteeing their prayer rights would be to create a third section at the main Western Wall prayer area for them.

“We look to the Supreme Court to stop the ultra-Orthodox monopoly of the Western Wall,” WOW chairwoman Anat Hoffman said. “An extremist minority has hijacked the Kotel in ’67, and made it into an ultra-Orthodox shul. We want to reclaim the Kotel for everyone.”

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