Responding to tremendous pushback from world Jewish leaders, the World Zionist Organization has resolved to take practical steps to prevent a recurrence of recent violence at the Western Wall in which it was implicated.
The WZO, which operates as an umbrella organization for the various Zionist movements and Jewish denominations around the world, sponsored an event two weeks ago in partnership with Liba – an extremist organization that is fiercely opposed to pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall.
Liba has organized numerous events at the Jewish holy site that target the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall, as well as the Reform and Conservative movements.
At the WZO-sponsored event, Women of the Wall worshippers were taunted, shoved and spat on by ultra-Orthodox girls who had been bussed in to the Jewish holy site. Nearly 1,000 Haredi girls, many of them waving WZO flags, took part in the event that was ostensibly meant to mark the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress. It began, however, at the exact same hour, 7 A.M., that Women of the Wall begins its monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer service.
The counter-event was initiated by two departments in the WZO that are run by Haredi parties: World Shas, which represents ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews; and Eretz Hakodesh, which represents ultra-Orthodox American Jews and is aligned in Israel with United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi Haredi party. Both movements are allied with World Likud.
In a resolution passed early Tuesday morning, the WZO vowed never again to “cooperate, neither directly nor indirectly, with organizations that include in their stated values, goals, and/or activities, expressions of contempt, harassment, violence, and/or violation of the legitimacy of members and/or member bodies of the Zionist Movement.” This was a specific reference to Liba.
The resolution said the WZO “strongly condemns the behavior that was observed at the Kotel” during the event it had sponsored, citing the “provocative, violent and unruly conduct of its participants” toward Women of the Wall.
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“This behavior is not commensurate with the founding values of the World Zionist Organization and is completely opposed to the ethos and ethics of the WZO that is committed to pluralism and mutual respect between all streams of Judaism,” the resolution said.
The event on May 2 had been approved by a special committee at the WZO that is required to approve all partnerships with external organizations. WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel sat on the committee that approved it.
Hagoel, who also serves as acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, has come under intense pressure over the past week to speak out against what transpired and take action.
Last week, Women of the Wall met with Hagoel and demanded an apology from him. He refused.
The feminist group welcomed the WZO resolution, expressing hope that this was the “beginning of the end” for Liba – an organization whose sole purpose, it said in a statement, was “to create divisions and dissent within the Jewish people.”
The Reform movement in Israel released a statement thanking the WZO “for examining this incident carefully and for ensuring that the World Zionist Organization, which represents the breadth and diversity of the Jewish people, will never affiliate itself or be affiliated with hatred and incitement among the Jewish people.”
The resolution was approved by all members of the WZO executive committee aside from the representatives of the World Mizrahi and World Likud parties, who objected to the mention of Liba’s name. The representatives of the two ultra-Orthodox parties that had initiated the event did not show up for the vote.
WZO Vice Chairman Yizhar Hess, a former director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel, said he was grateful to Hagoel for joining him in drafting the resolution. “This should prevent a recurrence of the awful incidents we witnessed at the Kotel two weeks ago,” he said.