Western Wall Crisis

Hundreds of Jewish Agency Envoys Warn: Government Damaging Israel's Security and Economic Interests

In letter, current and former emissaries from the Jewish Agency lament backtrack on planned non-orthodox Western Wall prayer space, contentious conversion bill

Illustration: A rabbi greets young U.S. Jews returning from a birthright trip, asking them: "Nu, and what did you discover in Israel?" "That we're not Jews," they reply.
Amos Biderman

A large group of Jewish Agency emissaries – or shlichim – have signed a letter protesting recent moves by Israel's government, which they say harm ties between the Jewish state and the Jewish communities abroad.

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"We, the emissaries of the Jewish Agency (Shlichim), comprised of Israeli citizens from across the political spectrum and diverse Jewish backgrounds, have witnessed with great pain the expressions of rage, insult and astonishment expressed by members of our communities to the recent decisions by the Israeli government [to] freeze of the Kotel Compromise and allowing the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over conversions in Israel," the letter, which was also sent to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, read.

The conversion bill, along with last week’s decision to suspend planning an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, has drawn backlash from Jews in America. Most U.S. Jews belong to the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams and feel alienated by Israel's ultra-Orthodox authorities, who question their faith and practices.

"We are greatly concerned that these decisions are harming the delicate bonds between our two communities. These actions cause irrefutable damage to our collective future as a united Jewish people, to Israel’s security and economic interests, and to the very essence and character of the Jewish nation state," read the letter, which was signed by almost 200 of the Jewish Agency's 300 emissaries and was shared with the #onewallonepeople hashtag.

"We call upon the citizens of Israel to reach out to their elected representatives, and encourage them to reverse these decisions and to reclaim the responsibility of shaping the Jewish public sphere.

"Our Judaism belongs to all of us! We call upon anyone who believes pluralism is a bedrock of Israeli democracy, to join this effort," they wrote.  

Urging others to join their call for pluralism, they wrote that "the current crisis is an opportunity to raise the issue of religious pluralism to the top of the Israeli public’s agenda.

"As Israelis, we are aware that for large segments of the Israeli Jewish population, the Western Wall prayer arrangements and conversion rights are not a daily concern that defines their Jewish-Israeli identity. The Israeli Jewish public must understand that surrendering these two important symbols is surrendering the privilege and obligation to shape the character and nature of our Jewish State."

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On Friday, after a meeting of the Israeli government over the contentious Jewish conversions bill blew up, with ultra-Orthodox parties storming out, a temporary solution to the crisis has been found Friday.

The government and the Reform Jewish agreed to ask the High Court of Justice to postpone a ruling on a petition filed by the latter against Israel's conversion bill. This would give a team appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some six months to draft a new compromise on the contentious issue of conversion.

In the meantime, the bill, which aims to outlaw private conversions to Judaism, will be put on hold. If the High Court rejects the request, the legislation will be revived.