Police Investigating Death Threat Against Conservative Movement Leader in Israel

Yizhar Hess recounts that he was 'rendered speechless' after an ultra-Orthodox man told him: 'I will murder you, if I had knife I'd put it in you here'

A man who threatened this week to murder a leader of the Conservative movement in Israel has been located and is under police investigation, a spokesman for the Jerusalem police force confirmed on Tuesday.

The threat was issued on Sunday morning during the monthly Women of the Wall  prayer service at the Western Wall. Leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements typically accompany the multidenominational feminist prayer group during this ritual.

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Yizhar Hess describing the threat he received in a Facebook post
Yizhar Hess describing the threat he received in a Facebook postYizhar Hess/Facebook

In a post on his Facebook page, Yizhar Hess, chief executive of the Conservative movement in Israel, reported that a young ultra-Orthodox man threatened him with the following words: “I will murder you, if I had a knife I’d put it in you here. If I had an ace I’d take it like this, in your head. You’re a heretic. It’s permitted to kill you.”

Hess noted that he has joined the Women of the Wall prayer service virtually every month for the past few years but that “I’ve never experienced a conversation so violent.”

Yizhar Hess, chief executive of the Conservative movement in Israel.
Tami Goetlib/Wikimedia Commons

“I was simply rendered speechless by the things that were said,” he added, “and it took me time to digest it.” A photo of the man who issued the threat, along with a video documenting the incident, was posted on Hess’s Facebook page as well.

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The photo shows the young man surrounded by a group of ultra-Orthodox men, one of whom, speaking “with a thick American accent,” according to Hess, egged on his peer, saying: ‘”He’s right. You are liable for death. I don’t have the courage to do it, but it’s a mitzvah. If he does it, I will commend him.”

Hess filed a complaint with police on Monday and was invited to provide testimony at the police station in Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday afternoon. “Our interrogation is still under way,” a spokesman for the Jerusalem police told Haaretz, “and if we find that there are grounds for pressing charges, that will be done.”

This would not be the first time that leaders of the non-Orthodox movements in Israel have received death threats.

Two years ago, envelopes containing written death threats were discovered at a vandalized Reform synagogue in the central Israeli town of Ra’anana. The individuals targeted in that case were Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (the congregational arm of the movement in North America), Rabbi Gilad Kariv (executive director of the movement in Israel) and Anat Hoffman (chair of Women of the Wall who also heads the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the movement in Israel).