The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are planning a big rally outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night. The groups will be protesting two recent government decisions seen as major setbacks to the cause of Jewish pluralism in the country.
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On Sunday, the cabinet voted to suspend plans to build a new egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, where Reform and Conservative Jews could hold mixed prayer services. Later in the day, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to move ahead with a bill that would deny the validity of conversions to Judaism undertaken in Israel outside the state-sanctioned Orthodox system.
Both decisions were made under pressure from Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. Both were meant to avoid Supreme Court rulings in favor of the non-Orthodox movements in two pending cases.
The protestors will open the event with a special Havdalah candle-lighting service to mark the end of the Sabbath. Participants are being asked to come equipped with their own candles to the rally.
In a poster advertising Saturday night’s rally, movement leaders wrote: "The Israeli government sacrificed the Kotel to extremists, withdrew from the Kotel agreement and supports a conversion law that will divide the Jewish people."
Borrowing from the prayer recited at the Havdalah ceremony, the poster goes on to say: “When together we are able to distinguish between light and darkness.”
Reform and Conservative leaders in Israel believe hundreds will attend the demonstration, including members of the movements visiting Israel for the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting, which was held this week. The demonstration will begin at 21:30, after the Sabbath is over. Jerusalemites are being asked to host friends from out of town for the weekend so that they can attend the event.
"We will come together with great pain but also much hope on Saturday night,” said Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel, “and we will tell the prime minister – up to here. We are also Jewish. I am a 10th generation Jerusalemite, an officer in the IDF, and a father to a son serving in an elite army unit. The government’s decisions were a slap in the face to me, my friends, to every Jew wherever he or she may be in the world.”
Calling the government’s decisions “anti-Zionist,” he warned that if it does not “come to its senses,” Israel would cease to be the home of the Jewish people.