Harassing Jews

Can you imagine the Kotel’s iconic men’s section being closed for 20 months?

THE WESTERN WALL stands empty of worshipers amid the coronavirus crisis. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE WESTERN WALL stands empty of worshipers amid the coronavirus crisis.
In 1948, Israel was founded as the Jewish state. The idea was to create a place where all Jews – no matter where they came from – could feel at home and be safe from the enemies who had tried for centuries to kill them or strip them of their identity in Europe, North Africa and beyond.
The problem is that Israel is failing in this mission. Most of the Jews in North America, for example, who affiliate with Reform, Conservative or other forms of egalitarian and progressive Judaism, still don’t have a proper place to pray at the Western Wall. In March, we reported how it took the government nearly two years to secure stones that had fallen at the Robinson’s Arch section of the wall, keeping closed a platform for progressive prayer adjacent to the holy site.
Can you imagine the Kotel’s iconic men’s section being closed for 20 months? Does anyone really believe that the government would not act swiftly – while appropriating the necessary budgets and resources – to repair damage there if needed? This is clear discrimination against progressive Jews.
Sadly, this is not the only instance of that happening. Last Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon reported how the Interior Ministry has denied Jewish status to more than 2,200 children born to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The denials were issued in recent years, in many cases to people who had already been recognized as Jews by the Chief Rabbinate.
The data was obtained by the Itim religious services advisory organization following a freedom of information request it made in 2018.
In one case revealed by Sharon, the Interior Ministry – run by Shas leader Arye Deri – refused to register as Jewish the child of a woman whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and whose mother was a Soviet refusenik, who eventually was able to leave the Soviet Union and married through the Chief Rabbinate.
Not only can the ministry do this, but it can also make the Israelis who are being stripped of their Jewish identity pay for it. When the ministry decides to investigate someone’s Jewishness, it sends them a letter informing the person that if they refuse to agree to a change in their status and fail to prove their Jewishness, the ministry will take them to court. If they lose, they might end up being forced to pay for the court expenses as well.
“This policy is a policy of harassment of families and the Interior Ministry is trying to strip them of the religious and national identity that brought them on aliyah in the first place,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“Clerks are telling them their Jewishness is in question because of their ethnicity. There is a culture of suspicion against the very Jews who one generation ago we fought to save, and we’re now telling them they’re not welcome in this country.”
If this wasn’t really happening it might be possible to believe it was a dream, but sadly, this is real. Israel, a country established to protect the Jewish people, is discriminating against its own citizens and stripping them of the way they identify.
This has to stop and it has to stop now. Upon joining this government, Benny Gantz promised to help bridge the ties between Israel, the Diaspora and all streams of Judaism. He promised to work to heal the rift that had not only been created, but was also increased, during the last three governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is time both Gantz and Netanyahu put a stop to what Deri and his Interior Ministry are doing. Instead of harassing Jewish immigrants to Israel, they should work to encourage more Jews to move here. They should work to make Israel more accessible, more progressive and more tolerant of Jews who are different in the way they practice their religion, the way they look and in what they believe.
If Israel wants to remain the “Jewish state” it needs to stop being held hostage to the narrow tunnel vision through which the Chief Rabbinate and Shas sees the country and world. That might have been necessary when the survival of the Jewish people was at stake, but today, it does more damage than good.