American-born Knesset member Michael Oren told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he would violate coalition discipline and vote in the Knesset against the government’s decision to grant the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on conversion, even it meant getting fired from his post as a deputy minister.
Oren said he was furious about the decision, and another made in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, to indefinitely freeze a government decision to build a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. While the Wall decision will not come to the Knesset, the conversion bill will enable Oren to flex his political muscles as a representative of American Jewry in the Knesset with his vote.
“I am willing to accept the consequences for the unity of the Jewish people,” said Oren, who was involved in formulating the outline agreement for egalitarian prayer Western Wall as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. “This is the abandonment of Zionism. The Kotel belongs to the Jewish people as a whole” In a stormy, closed-door meeting of the Kulanu faction, Oren told party leader Moshe Kahlon that he had spoken to major foreign donors to Israel who said the decisions were “the last straw,” causing them to rethink their contributions and fund-raising.
Oren presented Kahlon with official government figures that indicate donations from Diaspora Jews make up 6.5% of Israel’s gross domestic product and asked him if it was right for Israel to risk losing that money.
Politicians from across the political spectrum competed with each other at the Knesset Monday in bombastic statements protesting the Western Wall and conversion decisions.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told his faction that Benjamin Netanyahu was no longer prime minister of Israel, but rather a puppet prime minister of the ultra-Orthodox. He warned that due to the decisions, American Jews would become so alienated from Israel that they would shun the Jewish state.
“Israel’s prime minister spoke to Birthright participants and he knew, while standing in front of them on stage, that this decision would be the beginning of the end of this wonderful institution, because American Jews won’t send their children to a country that insults and humiliates them,” Lapid said.
Lapid canceled a press conference at the Western Wall he had set for Monday morning, because he said haredi (ultra-Orthodox) protesters threatened provocations.
“I’m not the only one who was prevented from going to the Kotel,” he said. “Millions of Jews received a message yesterday that they aren’t wanted at the Kotel. The whole country was moved by the sight of President Trump, a Christian, at the Kotel. But yesterday, a majority of Jews in the world were told they can’t go to the holiest place for Jews. We are pushing Jews out of the Kotel.”
Lapid said the Jews pushed away included “senators, congressmen, the majority of the pro-Israel lobby, major donors, the people we turn to when we need help ensuring that Israel will get advanced weapons, that the military assistance will increase, that there will be sanctions on Iran.”
Speaking in English with Reform and Conservative leaders beside him, Lapid said: “Do not give up on us. We have no intention of giving up on you. We are one people. It might take time. It might take elections. But in a democracy the majority decides, and the majority in Israel want us to be one nation.”
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern sent a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday, asking him to investigate how the Western Wall decision was passed.
Ministers said the issue was not on the cabinet’s agenda and took them by surprise.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog will meet with the Jewish Agency Board of Governors on Tuesday to advise them about how to fight the government. Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni told US Reform leader Rick Jacobs – in a meeting that had been set long in advance of the government decisions – that the time has come for liberal Jews to unite to defend their Judaism, which is not represented by the haredi parties.
“Netanyahu stabbed them in the back, promised and zigzagged,” Livni said. “He talks big about what is best for the Jewish people, and then does what’s best for him politically.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman complained that the two decisions were “an attempt to change Israel from a Jewish state to a state of Jewish law.” He said his faction would not vote for the conversion bill in the Knesset, but he left open the possibility that they would choose to absent themselves from the vote rather than violate coalition discipline.
“We are not here to threaten crises but to prevent crises,” he said. “We have a stable coalition, and there is no reason to threaten it. The crises can be resolved.”