Netanyahu Invites U.S. Jewish Leaders to Discuss Scrapped Western Wall Prayer Space, Snubs Reform and Conservative Reps

Jewish Agency not invited to Monday's meeting at Prime Minister's Office, either, after calling on government to reconsider move to freeze plans for egalitarian prayer space at Western Wall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the Wilson's Arch excavations at the Western Wall, May 28, 2017.
Kobi Gideon/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited the head of the Jewish Federations of North America and the directors of the Jewish federations of New York, Chicago and Cleveland to his office on Monday to discuss the freezing of plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, but representatives of the Reform or Conservative movements were not invited.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and other members of his Agency’s board of governors were also snubbed.

>>Israel's Western Wall crisis: Why Jews are fighting with each other over the Jewish holy site, explained

The Agency convened an emergency session on Monday, following which its board of governors issued a resolution calling on the Israeli cabinet to reconsider its decision to suspend implementation of the plan for an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel.

The resolution, which the board adopted unanimously, stated that the cabinet decision, as well as the proposed conversion bill – which would bar government agencies from recognizing conversions performed in Israel outside the Orthodox-sanctioned state system – undermine the Zionist vision and divide the Jewish people.

The Agency also canceled a special dinner with Netanyahu that was due to take place at the Knesset on Monday.

Israeli politicians from opposition parties also criticized Sunday’s cabinet decision.

Addressing fellow Zionist Union Knesset members on Monday, Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu was “betraying his role as prime minister of the state of the Jewish people as a whole.”

She accused the prime minister of splitting the Jewish people in order to serve his need for political survival, “and giving a monopoly on the Judaism of all of us to the ultra-Orthodox parties.”

The steps being taken by the government “will exclude millions – precisely those who are helping us act against anti-Israeli resolutions and against resolutions harming the Jewish people’s right to Jerusalem,” Livni said.

Speaking to party members, Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid called on Diaspora Jewry not to give up on Israel. “We are not giving up on you. We are one people,” he said, in the presence of Reform and Conservative Judaism leaders from the United States, including Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

“Netanyahu is no longer the prime minister of the entire Jewish people,” said Lapid. “He is the head of a puppet government of ultra-Orthodox politicos.”

Also Monday, the heads of the Reform movement in the United States and Israel decided to cancel a scheduled meeting with Netanyahu, to protest the government’s decision.

Late on Monday, the main groups representing the Conservative/Masorti movement issued a joint statement deploring the government decision on the Western Wall, while also criticizing ministers' approval of a bill cementing the Rabbinate's monopoly over Jewish conversions.

The statement, issued by the Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Mercaz Olami, Masorti Olami and the Masorti movement in Israel, said: "Because we love Israel and see the rising influence of an intolerant religious establishment as an existential threat to its future and to the unity of the Jewish people we will not rest until these decisions not only are overturned but also Israel fulfills the promise of its Zionist origins and founding declaration to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and to “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.""