Shas MK Michael Malkieli.
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ YAKOV COHEN)
In a particularly ill-tempered committee hearing in the Knesset on Wednesday regarding Israel–Diaspora relations, Shas MK Michael Malkieli seemed to compare Reform and Conservative Jews and the Women of the Wall to dogs.
Malkieli’s comments came during a hearing of the Knesset Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, which was held to discuss the now-indefinitely suspended Western Wall agreement.
During discussion of the agreement – which would have created a state-recognized egalitarian prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall known as the Robinson’s Arch site – Malkieli weighed in with his opinion on whether progressive Jews should have a place to pray in accordance with their customs at the holy site.
“I think that when we travel abroad to all different types of places, we automatically fall in line with instructions that are in place at the site,” opined Malkieli.
“We know that there are places where dogs aren’t allowed. There are places where they demand that people come in modest clothing,” said the Shas MK matter- of-factly.
His comments were roundly denounced by the progressive Jewish denominations.
Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Reform movement’s legal arm in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, said Malkieli’s comments were “part of an ongoing campaign of incitement against the Reform and Conservative movements trying to denigrate and delegitimize us.”
Director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess said the comments reflected upon Malkieli’s own character and “benighted opinion.”
“They will continue to speak crassly and ignorantly. And we will continue to unambiguously demand that the Western Wall belongs to everyone, and that we need to return to the compromise agreement which will guarantee the unity of the Jewish people and enable equal access to the Western Wall for whoever wants it,” said Hess.
The Women of the Wall organization strongly criticized Malkieli, noting that this was not the first time an ultra-Orthodox MK has referenced non-Orthodox Jews with dogs.
It pointed out that United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush said in a speech in the Knesset plenum last year that progressive Jews and Women of the Wall should be “sent to the dogs.”
Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri defended the behavior of his MK, saying, “I back our representative MK Michael Malkieli, who served today in the committee for the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens who see an obligation to protect the Jewish character of the Western Wall.”
Malkieli was not the only MK in the hearing to make derogatory comments about progressive Jews and liberal members of Knesset.
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev weighed in to defend Malkieli after his controversial comments, telling Zionist Union MK Michal Biran and Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg that the Western Wall had nothing to do with them. He added that he did not interfere with them when they visit gay and lesbian nightclubs.
“Do I go into your lesbian and gay clubs?” demanded Yogev, the implication apparently being that all liberal MKs spend their free time in homosexual nightclubs and have no right to discuss Jewish holy sites.
“Why do you go into a place that is holy to the Jewish people for generations?” asked Yogev.
“The Western Wall doesn’t belong to you personally. I am also part of the Jewish people, and so are others,” retorted Zandberg, as she pointed to representatives of the progressive Jewish movements in the hearing.
The Women of the Wall organization was heavily critical of Yogev’s comments, accusing him of treating the Western Wall as his own private property.
“It is clear from Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev’s statements that he treats the Wall as if it were his private backyard, similar to his colleagues from the ultra-Orthodox parties,” said the group in response.
“His argument that the Wall is considered a synagogue is misleading the public, since the Wall is defined by law as a national, historic and religious site. His outrageous statements and his offensive attitude toward women, secular Jews, gays and lesbians should be renounced.”
At the same hearing, Sattath stated that the leaders of the Reform movement have ceased meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Tzachi Hanegbi, who has been tasked with forming a new compromise for use of the Western Wall.
Sattath stated that the Reform movement believed the prime minister and the government were using the meetings to erroneously claim to the High Court of Justice that progress is being made in negotiations between the government and the progressive movements toward a new agreement.
The High Court has a petition currently before it submitted by the progressive Jewish movements requesting either that the court order the government to implement the original agreement or order the creation of an egalitarian prayer section at the central Western Wall plaza.