Normally mild-mannered opposition leader Isaac Herzog advised Diaspora Jewish leaders on Tuesday to fight against the government’s Western Wall decision, pleading with them to stop being polite.Herzog spoke at an emergency session of the Knesset Caucus on Strengthening the Jewish World.
The session was attended by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, American Jewish leaders spoke, and 25 Knesset members from across the political spectrum but no ultra-Orthodox legislators.The meeting was organized by the chairman of the committee, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, to protest 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. Shai stress that the meeting was not against the government but against the decision, which he said harmed the unity of the Jewish people.“I feel disgraced and offended by the government’s decision,” Herzog said. “Therefore, we must not be polite. I offer my apologies, together with many Israelis who believe there should be equality for all. It is time to work to change the course, which could undermine the strength of Israel.”Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren (Kulanu) went further, saying: “This is a battle for Israel’s soul, I’m proud to stand with US Jewish leaders, and we will win.”Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs said the prayer area near Robinson’s Arch that is currently used for egalitarian prayer is not a solution, calling it “second-class” and vowing that the non-Orthodox will not be second- class Jews.New chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors Michael Siegal promised that Diaspora Jewish leaders “won’t let this issue go away” and would make sure Israel would remain “welcoming for all Jews for all time.”The Board of Governors was set to convene in Jerusalem this week but canceled its proceedings following the decisions in Sunday’s cabinet meeting on the Wall and granting the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on conversion. The board canceled a festive event with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has been meeting opposition MKs.Anat Hoffman, the head of Women of the Wall, addressed the event in a prayer shawl and asked the lawmakers: “How can I get the Women of the Wall to believe you anymore?” The only legislator who attempted to defend Netanyahu was Likud MK Avraham Neguise. When he said the Wall was not a political issue, opposition lawmakers led by Yesh Atid’s Aliza Lavie heckled him, and said the problem was Netanyahu’s fault, because he broke an agreement reached between US religious streams and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Knesset representatives.Lavie later led the MKs and Jewish leaders in the hymn about Jewish unity “Hineh mah tov umah nayim.”Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), whom Netanyahu appointed to resolve the Western Wall dispute, told the event that he saw himself as “Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.” But he ended on a note of understanding.“There are always changes and clarifications that can be made,” he said. “It’s not the end of this fight. Everything is open, and don’t give up hope.”
Emergency Knesset meeting on Western Wall crisis