AIPAC leaders to meet Netanyahu Thursday over Kotel crisis

Lobby representatives want the prime minister to renege on recent government decisions regarding conversion and prayer space at the Western Wall, warn of a Diaspora-Israel rift.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington,
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Three top leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee arrived in Israel on Wednesday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discuss the impact on the pro-Israel lobby of Sunday’s government decisions on the Western Wall and conversion.
The delegation is expected to meet with Netanyahu later today, and is scheduled to be in the country for only a day.
The AIPAC decision to send a delegation came amid a wave of calls it received in Washington both from constituents and from the offices of congressmen (the vast majority of whom were Democrats) expressing concern about the decision to freeze the plan to establish an expanded egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and to move forward the bill that would give the ultra-Orthodox a monopoly over conversion in Israel.
The congressional offices relayed that they were being called by voters in their districts concerned about the issues.
At the same time, The Jerusalem Post has learned, AIPAC has also received phone calls from some of its members telling them that these are not AIPAC issues, and that the organization should not get involved.
The decision was made to dispatch the delegation to share the views and concerns of the AIPAC board with the prime minister.
Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)
The delegation includes AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus, incoming President Mort Fridman and Managing Director Richard Fishman. The organization’s CEO, Howard Kohr, did not join the group because of prior personal commitments.
Pinkus and Kohr were in Israel already once earlier this month, and met with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
The issue of the Western Wall, the Post has learned, was not raised in the meeting with Sharansky, because there was no indication at the time that any government decision on the matter was imminent.
Virtually all of America’s largest Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy organizations have expressed concern over the matter, perhaps best encapsulated by a statement issued by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which called on Netanyahu to “urgently” resolve the matter.
“We have heard from our constituent organizations and from members of our community,” said Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman and executive vice chairman, respectively, of the umbrella group. “It has evoked very strong feelings as it has touched on deeply sensitive issues that are both personal and communal.
“It is imperative that the government move expeditiously to address this matter and come up with a resolution that is equitable to all, as you sought to do in the agreement that was reached before,” the leaders said in a letter to the prime minister.
Democratic congressman are also beginning to question Netanyahu’s actions. One member, Nita Lowey of New York, on Wednesday “strongly urged” the premier to change course.
“As a member of Congress who has advanced the US-Israel relationship throughout my career, I strongly urge the government of Israel to reverse its decision to suspend the previously approved plan to create a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall,” Lowey told the Post. “The majority of Jews around the world consider Israel their ancestral homeland, and Israel should provide an opportunity for all Jews, men and women, to have egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.”
This is not the first time that a top AIPAC delegation has come to Jerusalem to express concern about Israeli decisions affecting on the religious identity of US Jews.
During the height of the “Who is Jew” dispute in the late 1980s, AIPAC officials came a number of times, either on their own or as part of wider delegations of American Jewish leaders, to warn then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir of damage the dispute was having on American Jewry, with some at the time even warning that it could damage Israel’s position in the US Congress.