Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not our elected leader. The government of Israel is not our elected government. But, as members of the Jewish people, the land of Israel is our ancestral birthplace, and its holy places are our holy places. And a deal is a deal.
By virtue of our birthright, we have standing to join the chorus of condemnation of the decision by Israel’s Cabinet on Sunday to stop the implementation of its agreement to create a formal egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. Reneging on the deal is bad enough. This decision is much worse, however, since it divides the Jewish people and reflects a level of political cowardice that is an embarrassment.
The suspension came after the Haredi United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, both members of the current government, put pressure on Netanyahu to scrap the carefully negotiated Kotel agreement, threatening to leave the coalition if the deal was honored. The Kotel agreement, hammered out after years of talks between the government, the Israeli branches of the Reform and Conservative movements, Jewish Agency for Israel head Natan Sharansky and Women of the Wall, would have expanded and given official recognition to a space near Robinson’s Arch now used by smaller groups for non-Orthodox services.
Rather than stand by its agreement, and support what nearly every politician in Israel understands to be the overwhelming interests of world Jewry, Netanyahu and his Cabinet buckled under the Haredi threat.
That decision came as the board of governors of the Jewish Agency, a body that links Israel with the Diaspora, was meeting in Jerusalem. The board canceled a scheduled dinner with Netanyahu on Monday and announced that it would change its own meeting agenda “in order to address the ramifications of” the decision. Other Diaspora-affiliated organizations joined in roundly condemning the decision, including JFNA, the umbrella organization of the federation system in North America.
While the refusal to meet with the prime minister might seem counterintuitive — particularly if the Jewish Agency wants to convince Netanyahu to change his Cabinet’s decision — the move was the right one. Further discussion isn’t necessary. And it is time to hold Netanyahu to his promise of “one wall for one people.” It’s as simple as that.
We have repeatedly expressed concern about the disproportionate influence of Haredi doctrine in Israel’s coalition government. And we bristle at the imposition of religious practice in the orderly operation of a democratic government. And so, when the Kotel deal was abandoned at the same time the government caved under the Haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate on a conversion bill, we are compelled to say, “Enough!”
We cannot accept the government’s offensive message to the non-Orthodox majority of Diaspora Jewry that it doesn’t see them as a part of the global Jewish community. Israel’s very existence depends in no small part on the support of the Diaspora. Its future does, as well.