Jewish world leaders on Wednesday called on Prime Minister Yair Lapid to take immediate action to “ensure the safety, security and well-being” of all worshippers at the Western Wall, following an incident last week in which dozens of ultra-Orthodox boys attacked a group of Conservative families celebrating their children’s bar- and bat-mitzvahs at the Jewish holy site.
The celebrants included the family of an American boy.
“The government of Israel should accept responsibility to stop the completely unacceptable behavior that has been exhibited recently,” leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization wrote in a letter to the prime minister.
“At this stage, words of support are not enough, and concrete actions should be taken so that Jews of all streams feel at home, safe and welcome at the Kotel and in Israel.” The signatories described themselves in the letter as “a group representing the entire Jewish people.”
Video footage of last week’s event shows the ultra-Orthodox boys blowing whistles to drown out the prayers of those participating in the ceremonies, tearing up their prayer books, and cursing the worshippers. One teenager took a torn page from a prayer book and blew his nose into it.
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In their letter, the Jewish world leaders specifically addressed the bar-mitzvah of the American boy that had been disrupted. “At this uniquely important and special day for the young boy, surrounded by his friends and family who had traveled from the United States to the most holy site for the Jewish people, his bar mitzvah celebration was viciously attacked by protesters who apparently object to the manner of prayer at the site,” they wrote. “The determined young man bravely attempted to continue with his bar mitzvah while protesters screamed curses at him, including ‘Christian’ and ‘Nazi,’ and even tore up siddurim.”
The Jewish world leaders said they were aware of differences of opinion within the Knesset about the Western Wall deal, which was supposed to have provided the Conservative and Reform movements with an upgraded prayer plaza at the Jewish site. The deal was approved and later suspended by the government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
“However, this is not about the Kotel Agreement,” they wrote. “This is about the basic ‘derech eretz’ of Israelis welcoming Jews from around the world who come to celebrate their most cherished simchas in the Jewish State, follow all the established rules for such an event, engage in no provocation, demonstrate nothing but ‘Ahavat Yisrael,’ and are nevertheless subjected to conduct that should embarrass every Jew of every level or style of Jewish practice.”
The Jewish world leaders warned that “no effort to unite or strengthen the ties between Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora can be remotely successful while such behavior is allowed to continue.”
Copies of the letter were sent to Minister of Public Security Omer Bar Lev, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai and Deputy Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana.
In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the violent events of last week at the Western Wall.
“Someone wrote me from my office, ‘Deborah, if this happened in another country, wouldn’t we call it antisemitism?’” the special envoy said.
When asked whether she, in fact, would, Lipstadt declined to say anything further.