Reform, Conservative Leaders to Netanyahu: Incitement Against Us Could Lead to Bloodshed

Giving up on hope for an egalitarian prayer space, non-Orthodox Jewish movements notify prime minister they plan legal battle to get their share of Western Wall.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Ultra-Orthodox protesters seek to disrupt egalitarian prayers held by Reform and Conservative worshipers at the Western Wall on June 16, 2016.
Ultra-Orthodox protesters seek to disrupt egalitarian prayers held by Reform and Conservative worshipers at the Western Wall on June 16, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “bloodshed” if the government continues to turn a blind eye to the incitement against them.

In an impassioned letter sent Monday to Netanyahu, movement leaders wrote that despite a recent ban imposed by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, they intended to continue holding regular mixed prayer services for men and women in the upper plaza of the Western Wall.

“We expect that the police will protect us as we exercise our legal rights, and we are stating plainly that absent a clear and a strong response, the current wave of incitement and violence might lead to bloodshed, as seen in the streets of Jerusalem during last year’s Pride parade,” the letter said. At the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem last year, 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

Having given up hope that the government will follow through with its plan to create a special egalitarian prayer space for them at the southern expanse of the Western Wall, the Reform and Conservative leaders notified Netanyahu of their intent to fight for their rights in court.

According to the letter, they plan to petition the Supreme Court “in the very near future” to re-divide the existing gender-segregated area of the Western Wall into three sections: one for men, one for women and one for mixed prayer services. Until the Supreme Court reaches a ruling, they said that they will continue to convene in the upper place “week after week to sing, learn Torah, and assert our rights.”

Jewish religious and organizational leaders from the United States met in Jerusalem with Netanyahu on June 1 to express their deep concerns that he might capitulate to pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners to pull out of the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

In their letter, leaders of the movements in Israel and the United States, as well as a representative of Women of the Wall, noted “the lack of real progress” since that meeting. In addition, they expressed deep concerns about a new bill under discussion in the Knesset that would prevent Conservative and Reform Jews from using state-run mikvehs or ritual baths. They also referred to “the ongoing and unprecedented incitement” of certain cabinet and Knesset members against Reform and Conservative Jews.

“These cumulative developments bring us to a critical juncture and are already having a serious impact on the vital relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry,” they warned.

Netanyahu had told the movement leaders during their last meeting that until he had reached a compromise with the ultra-Orthodox parties, he intended to move ahead with some of the infrastructure work at the proposed site of the egalitarian prayer space. “We said then, and feel even more strongly now, that this would be a serious mistake,” the movement leaders wrote. “Such a tactic would undermine, rather than advance, our historic agreement.”

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