The Prime Minister’s decision to freeze the Western Wall compromise is a blow to the soul of world Jewry…
There are around 15 million Jews in the world today. Not very many, right? On Sunday, the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state made clear to many millions of them: Israel doesn’t really want you.
Benjamin Netanyahu would never put it in such blunt terms, of course. And he will undoubtedly expend considerably more rhetorical energy in the near future insisting that it is indeed not the case.
But his minister of health, Yaakov Litzman, leader of the United Torah Judaism party, has no reason to mince his words. In the boastful language of victory, after the Netanyahu-led cabinet decided on Sunday to halt the establishment of a permanent, official, pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall (as opposed to the current temporary area), Litzman declared triumphantly: “The government’s decision to freeze the Western Wall arrangement sends a clear message to the entire world: The Reform do not and will not have access or recognition at the Western Wall.”
For the ultra-Orthodox, the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are the most bitter of foes. Because Jews who just don’t care are no threat to their ultra-narrow interpretation of the faith, and, who knows, history may yet be drawn to their version of it. But the Reform, Neturei Karta, the Conservative Jews all have their own ways of observance. “Some [non-Orthodox Jews] are more open, more egalitarian, others more questioning, other are more threatening.” Says David Horovitz founder of times of Israel. “Even though the Nazis and the Reform Jews tried to destroy us…,” an ultra-Orthodox relative of mine once remarked in a speech at a family event. He wasn’t trying to be provocative, which almost made it worse. He was unthinkingly parroting received wisdom in much of his community.
The prime minister, publicly, is no ultra-Orthodox zealot. The prime minister, politically, however, has quite evidently decided that his future depends on keeping the coalition’s two ultra-Orthodox parties happy.
In a November 2015 address in Washington to the leadership of the Jewish community in North America, where millions identify with non-Orthodox Judaism, Netanyahu promised: “As prime minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews.” Specifically, he told the thousands at the Jewish Federations’ annual General Assembly, he hoped his government would soon reach the “long overdue understanding that will ensure that the Kotel [Western Wall] will be a source of unity for the Jewish people, not a point of division.”
How they applauded.
How cheated and betrayed they must feel now.
Litzman’s UTJ holds precisely six seats in the 120-member Knesset. The second ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, has seven. On Sunday, for the sake of those 13, Netanyahu struck a blow to the heart and soul of millions of Jews worldwide.
His decision is both short-sighted and fraught with long-term danger. Some critics rushed to call it a divorce from the “Diaspora“. If it’s not quite that, because the damage is not yet irrevocable, it is certainly the sign of a marriage in deep trouble.
Israel needs all the friends it can get. And it should be doing everything it can to avoid alienating its core supporters. Non-Orthodox Jews, in Israel and abroad, emphatically do not agree with everything that the Jewish state does, but the arguments, and the passion, reflect the connectedness of the global Jewish family.
The Jewish state is beset by external threats. We can and must defend ourselves against them. We can’t always resolve them. On Channel 2 news on Sunday night, the main item was about the Syrian civil war, as it threatens, afresh, to draw in Israel. On Friday, we watched as millions of Iranians marched in support of Israel’s destruction. In Lebanon that same day, Hezbollah’s leader vowed that the next conflict he drags us into will involve “hundreds of thousands” of fighters from across the Muslim world. Two days earlier, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, with whom we would like to make peace, again dismissed an American demand that he stop paying salaries to terrorists who kill Israelis.
His decision is both short-sighted and fraught with long-term danger. Some critics rushed to call it a divorce from the Diaspora. If it’s not quite that, because the damage is not yet irrevocable, it is certainly the sign of a marriage in deep trouble.
Israel needs all the friends it can get. And it should be doing everything it can to avoid alienating its core supporters, its own flesh and blood. Non-Orthodox Jews, in Israel and abroad, emphatically do not agree with everything that the Jewish state does, but the arguments, and the passion, reflect the connectedness of the global Jewish family.