We find ourselves in the midst of a Diaspora-Government of Israel controversy; one that appears to be growing in intensity. Our organizational leadership, you will not be surprised, in reaction to the news that GOI was about to breach its agreement to provide egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Kotel, sent a letter, not any letter mind you but "an urgent letter" to the Prime Minister referring not to the breach of an agreement negotiated over years and approved by the Government, but asking for continued support of "the concept." Just pathetic...
Anyway, here is how JFNA notified the system of the events:
Anyway, here is how JFNA notified the system of the events:
I am writing to you from the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings in Jerusalem about a two very significant and deeply troubling developments that have just occurred at the Israeli government’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
Early this morning, before that Cabinet meeting, Jerry Silverman and I, sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him to continue to support the concept of “one Wall for one people,” but regrettably, the government voted to suspend its previous resolution approving the Kotel compromise. The government decision did not rescind the original cabinet resolution, but suspended it.
As you know, in January 2016 the Israeli Cabinet voted to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The decision envisaged an upgraded and permanent prayer area for non-Orthodox services at Robinson’s Arch at the southern end of the Western Wall, along with a redesign of the approach to both this area and the traditional Kotel Plaza and prayer space.
Led by Natan Sharansky, Jewish Federations worked with the religious streams, the Israeli government, Women of the Wall and the Jewish Agency to help reach the agreement. Implementation of the plan was halted due to political pressures. Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky issued a statement which appears in full below. We echo his sentiments.
In addition, a new conversion bill sponsored by the Shas party was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation earlier today and has been sent to the Knesset for consideration. This bill changes the status quo of conversion in Israel and would block access to Israel’s courts.
We urge all Execs to communicate with their local Israel Consul General and share with them the community’s disappointment on the government decision to suspend the Kotel resolution. At the same time, you should urge the Consuls General to communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and let them know how disastrous this new conversion legislation would be for global Jewry.
Chair, Board of Trustees, JFNA"
And Natan Sharansky, who negotiated the Hotel Agreement and works indefatigably in effort to implement it issued a Statement:
"JUNE 25TH JEWISH AGENCY STATEMENT ON KOTEL
“As Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and on behalf of our partners, I must express my deep disappointment at today's decision by the Government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. Five years ago, the prime minister asked me to lead a joint effort to bring about a workable formula that would transform the Western Wall into, in his own words, ‘one wall for one people.’
“After four years of intensive negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world's Jewish communities.
“Today's decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.
“The Jewish Agency nevertheless remains staunchly committed to that work and to the principle of one wall for one people.”
Only Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz voted against the resolution to suspend the 2016 Kotel agreement.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced that the Prime Minister has asked Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to lead efforts to come up with a new plan.
We continue to monitor the situation and discuss next steps, and will of course update you with any news of significance."
So we have a JFNA letter that pleads rather than demands; but, in addition to a promise from the leader of the Jewish Agency of "monitoring the situation" JAFI has cancelled its Board Dinner with Netanyahu at the Knesset tonight and promised to reorient its Board meetings this week to deal with the "ramifications" of the Government's breach. Friends, we are either approaching or are already in an existential crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations precipitated by the Prime Minister's coalition politics. Hard to believe? Not so much.
Perhaps some thought was given to enlisting a group of Diaspora leaders who are in Jerusalem to immediately and respectfully demand a meeting with the Prime Minister to explain the impacts both the Cabinet decision to breach its Kotel Agreement and the Knesset legislation that would impact on conversions in Israel. Yet, if anyone, certainly this Prime Minister understands the implications but the impact of a face-to-face meeting with a group led by Michael Siegal, now the JAFI Board Chair and a friend of Bibi's of long-standing, and Sharansky, with a major contingent of federation executives representing cities of all sizes, would underscore the potential for and the implications of a major schism between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
Friends, this is not the time for weak letters but for strong actions. The Jewish Agency is showing the way and JFNA is doing its part. Here is the full statement of the Jewish Agency in response to the Government's action as reprinted in The Times of Israel::
And no one should be allowed to suggest that somehow this is but a "suspension" (whatever that means) of the Agreement -- as members of the Government reported: (1) to hide the intent, the Prime Minister did not include the egalitarian prayer space on the Government agenda; and (2) the Prime Minister made clear to his Government that this was a vote on the "cancellation" of the Agreement. In America and in Israel this was a breach of an Agreement negotiated by Natan Sharansky an adopted by the Religious Movements, JAFI and the Government.