Women of the Wall Attacked at Event Organized by World Zionist Organization

In partnership with ultra-Orthodox activists, WZO brought hundreds of seminary girls to Western Wall while the feminist prayer group was holding its monthly Rosh Chodesh service

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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A young woman raising a WZO flag uses a whistle to disrupt Women of the Wall prayer service, on Monday.
A young woman raising a WZO flag uses a whistle to disrupt Women of the Wall prayer service, on Monday.Credit: Orly Erez Likhovsky
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

It has become a matter of routine for Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group, to have its monthly Rosh Chodesh service at the Western Wall disrupted by ultra-Orthodox Jews unable to bear the sight of women praying in unorthodox ways.

That was the case on Monday morning as expected, when about 150 women participating in the service marking the start of the new Jewish month were taunted, shoved and spat upon.

There was one key difference, however, at this particular service: Those doing the taunting, shoving and spitting were ultra-Orthodox girls who had been bussed in to the Jewish holy site by the World Zionist Organization. Many, in fact, were waving WZO flags while engaging in these activities, according to eyewitness reports as well as video footage of the event.

Close to 1,000 ultra-Orthodox girls participated in the WZO-sponsored prayer event that was ostensibly meant to mark the 125th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress. It was timed, however, to start at the exact same hour – 7 A.M. – that Women of the Wall always begin their Rosh Chodesh prayer service.

The counter-event was initiated by several departments in the WZO, all of which are run by ultra-Orthodox parties and allied with the world Likud movement. WZO chairman Yaakov Hagoel, who is a representative of the world Likud movement, also serves as acting chairman of the Jewish Agency and personally approved the event.

To help organize the event, the WZO reached out to Liba, a group fiercely opposed to egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall that has declared fighting the spread of Conservative and Reform Judaism in Israel one of its key missions. Liba often organizes mass events at the Western Wall that target Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox movements. Last Tisha B’Av, for example, it organized a takeover of the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall during the annual megillah-reading service that the Conservative movement traditionally holds there on the eve of the fast.

In a complaint sent to Hagoel immediately after their morning prayer service, leaders of Women of the Wall wrote, “We are stunned and pained by the fact that we have been cursed, hit and spat on this morning by ultra-Orthodox seminary girls carrying WZO flags. We don’t understand how and why you approved such an event. What were you thinking when you joined forces with Liba, which has been fighting us with violence for years? Why did you cooperate with an extremist organization that wants to harm worshippers at the Western Wall?”

Michael Siegal, chairman of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency, was also sent the letter.

Flyers advertising the special “thanksgiving prayer” event featured the names of several dozen sponsors, almost all of them affiliated with ultra-Orthodox movements, institutions and organizations.

Liba, whose name also appeared on the flyer, has in the past year been vehemently fighting plans to renew the Western Wall deal, which was meant to provide the non-Orthodox movements with a new and enhanced space for egalitarian prayers services at the Jewish holy site. The original Western Wall deal was masterminded by Natan Sharansky, when he served as chairman of the Jewish Agency.

In their letter of complaint, Women of the Wall requested an urgent meeting with Hagoel, who now fills that same position. “We had expected levelheadedness and accountability from the person who today heads the Zionist movement and fills the role of chairman of the Jewish Agency (!), a position that is meant to serve the entire Jewish people, regardless of belief or gender,” they wrote.

The WZO said in a statement that together with other groups, it had organized several events to mark Israeli Independence Day. “Anything else attributed to us is groundless,” it said. “We view gravely any attempt to create a provocation over these festive events.”

Hagoel refused to comment on the attacks against Women of the Wall by girls who participated in the WZO-sponsored events. He refused to comment on connections between the WZO and Liba, and he refused to say whether he supports or opposes the Western Wall deal.

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