The World Zionist Organization (WZO) has stated that it “strongly condemns” the acts of violence at the Kotel plaza two weeks ago between Women of the Wall activists and haredi women.
The senior management of the WZO met on Monday afternoon and condemned the fact that two of its departments (run by two haredi political parties that are part of the World Zionist Congress) had organized an event that turned violent.
“The World Zionist Organization strongly condemns the conduct displayed at the event held at the Western Wall on Monday, Rosh Chodesh (new month of) Iyar, in collaboration with the Liba Center while using WZO symbols,” the WZO resolutions stated. “This behavior does not represent the WZO’s fundamental values, and runs completely against the ethos and ethics of the Zionist movement, which is committed to pluralism and mutual respect between all streams of Judaism.
“The World Zionist Organization shall not partner, either directly or indirectly, with organizations whose values, goals and/or activities showcase any aspects that demonstrate contempt, harassment, violence, and/or harm to the legitimacy of members and/or entities of the Zionist movement.
“If any member of the Cooperation Committee wishes to propose a partnership with an entity which demonstrates any of the above conduct, this partnership shall not be approved. Management members may submit their suggestions for discussion at management meetings, yet only the management is authorized to make decisions on this matter.”
The Liba Center organization is a haredi-leumi (ultra-Orthodox nationalistic) affiliated lobby group – they are one of the parties that has caused the Kotel agreement to collapse and Israel’s government to cancel it.
Women of the Wall responded to the WZOs statements on Tuesday morning, saying it "welcomed the important decision."
It added that it has "worked extensively" with the WZO and the Jewish Agency already to "reach a decision that would undermine Mercaz Liba’s violent tactics" against it.
Ne’emanei Torah Va’avoda welcomed the decision as well.
One hundred and fifty members of the Women of the Wall were met with resistance from both police and a group of Orthodox women as they attempted to conduct a prayer service at the Western Wall. The Women of the Wall had intended for their prayers to mark the start of the month of Iyar and the then-upcoming Independence Day.
The palpable tension at the Western Wall was due, in part, to the disagreements within the WZO itself. Buses carrying hundreds of young Orthodox women arrived at the Western Wall on Monday morning for an event said to have been organized by two haredi WZO departments – World Shas and Eretz Hakodesh (the Holy Land) – to mark Independence Day.
However, this event supposedly had another motive behind it – one that dates back to the prayer service that occurred the evening before, which was organized by a third WZO department head, Dr. Yizhar Hess. The event organized by Hess garnered support from major Jewish organizations and featured the reading of “Megillat Ha’atzmaut,” Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
The haredi departments of the WZO felt that Hess’s event “desecrated the sanctity of the wall” and likely felt the need to counter it with one of their own.
WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel has been criticized by major players in the Jewish Agency and within the WZO for not responding to this situation earlier. He met with concerned heads of the Jewish Federations of North America and received letters from Jewish organizations around the world.
The statement that accompanied the WZO resolution stated that “the Liba Center played a significant role in organizing the event at the Western Wall Plaza, including taking responsibility for participants’ transportation and overseeing extensive public and media activities around the event using the World Zionist Organization name and symbols, including logos, flags, etc.” and that “the communication prior to and after the event on the Liba Center media platforms included harmful information about the entities which compose the Zionist movement and national institutions.”
The Western Wall belongs to us all, but sadly recent events prove once again that this is a paradigm not accepted by Liba Yehudit among others, said Daniel Goldman, founder of The Institute for the Study of Judaism and Zionism.
"The actions of Liba Yehudit generate tension at the Western Wall, and it is even sadder that such conduct is in partnership with parts of the WZO who’s mandate is to represent all sections of the Jewish people and in particular the Zionist streams," he added.
In addition, it was specified that the participants acted “violently against the Women of the Wall,” including “blowing whistles, spitting and even being physically violent while raising WZO flags.”
Hagoel has sent a letter to the heads of the Zionist movement in Israel and around the world, as well as to the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency – since he is also the acting chairman of that organization. He wrote: “In light of the events that took place at the Western Wall plaza on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the World Zionist Organization has decided to conduct an in-depth investigation.
“I would like to emphasize in the clearest of terms that the WZO Executive thoroughly condemns any manifestation of violence, or disrespectful discourse. We are all united in our aspiration to prevent this in the future. We will draw the conclusions from this unfortunate event, and will continue to contribute with great pride to the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the most appropriate, dignified and stately manner.”