Kotel Crisis: Jewish Agency Instructs Emissaries to Tell Israel About Diaspora Anger

Head of agency, Natan Sharansky, has instructed emissaries to stress the need for Jewish unity in the face of threats to stop donations and cancel trips to Israel

File photo: Jewish women at the Western Wall partaking in traditions usually assigned to just men in the Orthodox world, February 22, 2017.
Emil Salman

Jewish Agency representatives in Diaspora communities were instructed on Tuesday to bring to the attention of Israeli politicians and public figures the expressions of anger and resentment they are hearing from Jews around the world following two contentious government decisions.

On Sunday, the cabinet voted to suspend plans to build a new and permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall where non-Orthodox Jews could hold mixed prayer services. Later that day, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to advance a bill that would deny recognition to any conversions performed in Israel outside the state-sanctioned Orthodox system.

The instructions were delivered to about 200 Jewish Agency emissaries who were briefed on Tuesday by the organization’s chairman, Natan Sharansky, about the crisis that has erupted between Israel and Diaspora Jewry over the government’s decisions. The briefing took place in a conference call.

Jewish federation heads have been reporting to Sharansky that their constituents are threatening to stop donations and to cancel trips to Israel because of the government’s decisions, which have shaken up the Jewish world.

In briefing the emissaries, Sharansky said they should oppose such calls and instead stress the need for Jewish unity.

Sharansky served as the key architect of the plan to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and was actively engaged in the negotiations that led to the final agreements approved by the government in January 2016 (and suspended this Sunday).

Sharansky had agreed to extend his tenure by a year, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in order to see through its implementation. The Jewish Agency leader had been scheduled to resign this month.

The Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which is convening this week in Jerusalem, cancelled a dinner with Netanyahu that was scheduled for Monday evening, in protest at the government’s decisions.