Think again: Why WoW’s radical leaders matter

Is concealing that agenda the reason why WoW tried to suppress the story of its leaders’ ties to fringe anti-Israel NGOs?

Women on the Wall 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Women on the Wall 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Is it merely a coincidence that so many of Women of the Wall’s (WoW) leaders have numerous close associations with radical, anti-Israel groups? Or could it be that WoW is a useful vehicle for advancing an anti-Israel narrative that leaves Israel increasingly isolated internationally? Is concealing that agenda the reason why WoW tried to suppress the story of its leaders’ ties to fringe anti-Israel NGOs?
Early this month, journalist Rachel Avraham posted a story on Jerusalem Online, the English-language website of Channel 2 News, detailing the connections between WoW vice-chairwoman Batya Kallus and chairwoman Anat Hoffman, and various anti-Israel groups.
As program director for the Moriah Fund, Kallus helps facilitate funding for such groups as Adalah, Ir Amim, Yesh Din and Mossawa. Adalah rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and has been active in promoting Israel Apartheid Week on North American campuses, and in the dissemination of the Goldstone Report accusing Israel of war crimes in Operation Cast Lead. The report cited “evidence” provided by Adalah 38 times.
Yesh Din categorizes Israel as an apartheid state and supported Turkey’s position after the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli naval commandos attempting to interdict the Gaza flotilla were set upon with iron bars and knives. Like Adalah, Mossawa rejects Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, and describes it as having been built on the ruins of the Palestinian people.
Kallus also serves as an adviser to Sikkuy, a signatory to the Haifa Declaration, which opposes the definition of Israel as a “Jewish state” and supports the right of return for Palestinians, which would spell the demographic end of the Jewish state. Sikkuy accuses Israel of exploiting the memory of the Holocaust for gain, and states the Jewish state has carried out “policies of subjugation and oppression in excess of those of the apartheid regime in South Africa [i]n the occupied territories.”
Kallus is the Israel representative of the Fohs Foundation, a major funder of the New Israel Foundation (NIF) and Sikkuy. Over 90 percent of the citations of Israel-based NGOs in the Goldstone Report were of organizations funded by the NIF. And prior to that, NIF-funded organizations played a leading role in planning the anti-Israel hatefest at Durban.
A taste of NIF’s orientation comes from a letter written to The Jerusalem Post by one Evalyn Segal over a decade ago. She relates how she was a “devout Zionist,” until she came to Israel on an NIF study tour and learned of the “racist contempt of the Israel government... toward Palestinians [and] how the founders of Zionism schemed from the start to take over, by any means necessary, the whole of Palestine and cleanse it of Palestinians.”
Hoffman, the public face of WoW, is also the chairwoman of the Domari Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem.
The Domari Society is part of the Grassroots Al-Quds Network of NGOs that coordinate activities and pool resources. The network’s mission statement supports “resistance to the occupation” and the Palestinian “right of return to Israel proper.” And it opposes the “Judaization of Jerusalem.”
Among the founders of the Al-Quds Network are Micha Kurz of Breaking the Silence, which accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, and Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement flotilla. The network’s website’s map of the Old City omits any mention of the Western Wall, and calls the Jewish Quarter the Sharaf neighborhood.
Among Kallus and Hoffman’s most revealing associations are those with groups opposing Israeli archeological digs in Jerusalem’s Old City. Ir Amim, an NGO supported by the Moriah Fund, claims that Israeli archeological digs within Jerusalem are a “tool in the fight for control over the city.” Ir Amim opposes all Israeli construction in the Old City, and refers to Jewish occupied buildings in the Western Wall Plaza as “settlement.”
Leslie Sachs, CEO of WoW, is an Ir Amim board member. Serving on the board of the Domari Society along with Hoffman are Yonatan Mizrachi and Dafna Strauss of Emek Shaveh, an organization which has called for an international investigation of Israel’s archeological work in Jerusalem.
No one suggests that all, or even most, WoW members share Kallus and Hoffman’s far left-wing political views. Why, then, are those views relevant to a discussion of WoW? Or, to put it another way, why was WoW so eager to prevent publication of Avraham’s article, which was almost entirely based on public information that can be readily gleaned from the websites of the organizations named, or from documents on file with the Authority for Nonprofit Organizations? When Avraham’s piece first appeared, Shira Pruce, WoW’s director of public relations, immediately contacted Jerusalem Online, claiming the article contained libelous and slanderous statements, and demanding its removal. Without a budget for litigation, Jerusalem Online complied.
At that point, Avraham reposted at the Matzav website, and Daniel Greenfield posted at his own piece quoting extensively from Avraham and adding more information of his own. Pruce wrote to Matzav, “According to our lawyers, the statements made by the writer, which are fictitious, constitute slander and libel.”
Significantly, she did not point to a single fictitious statement or make any attempt to refute Avraham’s research.
Matzav did not remove the article.
AVRAHAM’S RESEARCH demonstrates that Hoffman and Kallus are political animals, not just spiritual seekers motivated by their intense attachment to the Western Wall. And it strongly suggests that the prime motivation of the leaders of WoW is to advance an agenda consistent with their other political work.
The power of the Western Wall derives, in large part, from its role as a symbol of Jewish continuity, from the time of the First and Second Temples until today. Those who identify with organizations like Ir Amim and Emek Shaveh, which oppose Israeli archeological work in the Old City, as part of a sinister “Judaization of Jerusalem,” and who are allied with groups calling for the return of east Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and Western Wall, to Palestinian control, are apparently not terribly moved by Jewish continuity and its symbols.
In truth, Hoffman has always been rather forthright that the Western Wall Plaza had value in her eyes primarily as a place to make political statements – “to be seen,” in her words – and provoke confrontation. Hoffman admits she feels no particular attachment to places, the Western Wall included. And her Reform Movement long ago declared, “One should not consider the Western Wall as possessing any sanctity.”
She has no answer for the question posed long ago by Hillel Halkin, “Are there no other places in Jerusalem to practice Jewish feminism, that they must do it at the one site where it is sure to infuriate large numbers of Orthodox Jews?” – a question that takes on special gravity given Hoffman’s admission that the Western Wall has no real sanctity in her eyes.
Offending others is not an unfortunate byproduct, but the very purpose of WoW. Again, Hoffman admitted as much recently in explaining her theoretical acceptance of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky’s proposal for WoW to move their prayer rites from the current Western Wall Plaza to a fully refurbished area further south on the Western Wall (albeit while conditioning that acceptance on 16 untenable conditions). “WoW,” she conceded, in explanation of the new approach, “is not the right group for bringing about change in the Orthodox world.”
In other words, the 25 years of confrontation were not, at least for Hoffman, about the yearning for proximity to the Western Wall, but to “model” new and better modes of prayer for her benighted Orthodox sisters.
IT IS IMPORTANT to understand the ways in which WoW’s activities serve the radical agenda of Hoffman, Kallus and Sachs. WoW serves to “kasher” many of the organizations with which it is associated, in particular the NIF, which serves as both a funder of WoW and a conduit for its tax-deductible contributions.
WoW wraps itself in the cloak of religious pluralism.
For most American Jews, the belief that “there is no right way to be a Jew” is both the first and last of their theological principles. Accordingly, religious pluralism is as “American Jewish” as apple pie and motherhood – sadly, a good deal more so than the latter.
By selling itself as an organization committed to the benign cause – at least in the eyes of non-Orthodox American Jews – of religious pluralism, the NIF is able to obscure other parts of its agenda that might find less favor with many of its contributors.
But there is another more insidious way in which WoW helps to advance the radical Left agenda in Israel.
Groups like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, which uses former IDF soldiers to advance a narrative of widespread Israeli war crimes, seek to alienate American Jews from their identification with Israel. By doing so, they hope to increase Israeli Jews’ sense of isolation and lack of international support, and to thereby convince them that the only way out is to conclude a “peace” with the Palestinians on almost any terms.
By casting herself as a second Rosa Parks circa 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama, Hoffman does the same thing, by portraying Israel as a country in which women are “second- class citizens” and Reform Jews are not free to worship as they please. When former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton remarked that the treatment of women in Israel often reminds her of the status of women in Tehran, she indicated how successful Hoffman has been.
Such a state appears increasingly alien in the eyes of American Jews. And that, in turn, makes it easier for them to believe that their Jewish brothers in Israel are the most maniacal violators of human rights in the world, regularly and consistently treating Palestinians with inhumane cruelty.
Evelyn Gordon argues at length in the September issue of Commentary (“Provocation at the Wall”) that Hoffman and other leaders of WoW have skillfully ridden a narrative of women’s exclusion from the public square in Israel that has little relationship to reality. That narrative, she demonstrates, started with the left-wing media in Israel and has been eagerly picked up abroad.
And it is part of a pattern dating back to Menachem Begin’s election in 1977. As soon as the Left finds itself cast from the seat of power at the ballot box, it propagates a “false narrative of Israel’s slide into fundamentalism and fascism.”
In sum, the radical politics of WoW’s leaders are not just a curious coincidence, they are an essential part of their agenda.
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.