‘Next Time It Could Turn Deadly’: Reform Movement Leader Blames Israel for Clashes at Western Wall

‘Delegitimizing other Jews leads to the kind of violence we saw last Friday,’ Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, warns

A member of the liberal Jewish religious movement 'Women of the Wall' at the egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 8, 2019.
GALI TIBBON / AFP

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, warned of dire consequences on Sunday if growing incitement against his movement in Israel continued to go unchecked.

“Delegitimizing other Jews leads to the kind of violence we saw last Friday,” he told Haaretz. “Next time it could turn deadly. These are urgent issues that must be discussed by all candidates for the Knesset,” he said, referring to the attacks against Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group, and its supporters at the Western Wall on Friday morning in Jerusalem.

Jacob charged that was some of the incitement was originating “at the highest levels of government.”

>> ‘A desecration of God’s name’: Women of the Wall demands government inquiry Into violent attacks at Western Wall

“You can’t incite against a group of people and then be surprised when they’re targeted with violence,” he said. Women of the Wall is closely aligned with Reform Judaism, which is the largest Jewish movement in the United States.

“Friday was a shameful day for the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” said Jacobs. “Thousands upon thousands of yeshiva students were sent not on a sacred mission but to denigrate and desecrate that sacred space with hatred and violence toward a group of pious women. The fact that the government, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the police did not in any serious way work to protect them is another shameful part of that day.”

RשRabbi Rick Jacobs
Emil Salman

Women of the Wall held a special prayer service at the Western Wall on Friday morning to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the movement. Responding to calls from their rabbis, thousands students from religious high school from around the country descended on the Jewish holy site in an orchestrated attempt to disrupt the service. Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva boys who tried to attack the Women of the Wall delegation were kept behind police barricades.

Several members of the Women of the Wall group, as well as their male supporters from the Reform and Conservative movements, were injured during clashes that ultimately erupted.

“I would like to know what those thousands of yeshiva students are learning all day long and what kind of hateful Torah are they being taught,” said Jacobs. “That these young people could show up with such venom and hate, I just don’t know what kind of Jewish values they are being taught, but what I would say is that something has gone wrong in that entire world if this is the object of their rage.”

Many of the ultra-Orthodox protesters at the Western Wall on Friday were carrying posters attacking the Reform movement. The protests were organized by a brand-new organization called Hazon (Hebrew for vision), which has targeted the LGBT community, Reform movement and Women of the Wall in various advertising campaigns.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise here in North America and around the world, it is distressing that young yeshiva students are being taught to hate other Jews,” said Jacobs.

The clashes at the Western Wall could have been avoided had the government not backed out of its agreement to provide the non-Orthodox with an egalitarian prayer space equal in size and visibility to the plaza used for gender-separated Orthodox prayer, he added.

Women of the Wall prays during an event marking the organisation's 30th anniversary, Western Wall, Jerusalem, March 8, 2019.
Gali Tibbon / AFP

“The saddest part of all this is that there is a solution, and there has been one for three years, and had this solution been implemented, Women of the Wall would have moved its prayer service to the egalitarian section,” said Jacobs.