Netanyahu to Diaspora Jews: Stop airing grievances about religion in Israel

Stalled Kotel deal high on agenda at Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings.

Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Western Wall
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Diaspora Jews to stop publicly airing their grievances about issues of religion and state in Israel.
The prime minister was addressing hundreds of Jewish community leaders at a special plenary session at the Knesset on Tuesday, the third day of the autumn Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings. Netanyahu requested “patience and tolerance” on the issue of the stalled Kotel agreement, which has been a major source of disappointment and frustration for world Jewry, much of which wishes to see a more pluralist approach accepted in Israel.
The resolution for the creation of a pluralist prayer section at the Western Wall was approved by the cabinet in January, but has been frozen due to fierce opposition by the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.
Both Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein urged the Diaspora leaders to, in effect, keep their voices down on the subject.
“We have one people and one Wall – it’s our Wall,” Netanyahu told the audience gathered at the Chagall State Hall. “The less publicly we talk about it, the better chance we have to resolve it.
The last thing we need is more friction, as that will make a solution more difficult.”
Similarly, while thanking plenary attendees for their constructive input on the matter and assuring them that their voices and legitimate concerns are heard in the Knesset, Edelstein warned that “public petitions abroad do not help achieve a solution. Instead, they just fuel protests here which only makes a resolution more difficult. As family, we need to find a way...”
Edelstein added that it was “not helpful” for Diaspora Jews to criticize Israelis for being too Orthodox, or vice versa. “When we do so, we only weaken the bonds between us,” he said.
“I say this out of concern for our shared future as a Jewish people, a long-term view that must transcend any short-term matter.”
His comments came ahead of a mass protest on the issue scheduled for Wednesday morning, which Union of Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Rabbi Steven C. Wernick are expected to attend – both of whom were present at Tuesday’s session.
Wernick was unfazed by the government leaders’ remarks, having heard such sentiments expressed many times before.
He told The Jerusalem Post that while the ministers believe they need quiet in order to work on the issue behind the scenes, he and his colleagues conversely believe that there needs to be more noise.
“There needs to be a constant reminder front and center, why the implementation of the deal is in everyone’s best interest,” he said. “If they want us to give up our Supreme Court express right for mixed prayer at the Kotel, then they have to implement the agreement. We’ve been waiting monthand there needs to be more movement.”
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who initiated and spearheaded the Kotel deal, credited Netanyahu with having the resolution passed, but lamented its lack of implementation.
“We are saying to our people ‘give us time, be quiet’ – but while we are patient, time is running out,” he cautioned.
Sharansky said that while Jews around the world are fighting day and night against the delegitimization of Israel, they find that they are themselves delegitimized “by some people in this house.”
As all the speakers did, Sharansky criticized the recent UNESCO resolution which denies Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, saying, “We all know the UNESCO resolution is nonsense, denying our place in Jerusalem, but then you find out people in this house deny it to big parts of people in our Jewish community.”
The plenary session followed unprecedented breakout meetings between MKs from across the political spectrum and members of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency-initiated Caucus for Strengthening the Jewish People.
Caucus co-chairman Nachman Shai (Labor) spoke about the sense of disappointment, bitterness and impatience expressed by Diaspora Jews toward Israel, and called for “a new paradigm for Israel-Diaspora relations” based on mutual responsibility.
“Throughout Jewish history, our people has constructed a tent built on foundations of kindness and mercy, broad enough to include absolutely everyone,” he said. “Today, in the state of Israel – which takes pride in a commitment to principles of Judaism and democracy – most of those people are told, ‘there is no place for you in this tent. It is ours alone. Go find yourselves another tent.’” At the conclusion of the session, Shai told the Post that he disagrees with the calls for Diaspora Jews to lower their voices on the Kotel issue, saying, “There is nothing to hide. These aren’t secrets of the state of Israel. They should voice their positions and make it public. It should be on the table and handled properly.”