Leaders of major Jewish groups pressure Lapid after zealots overrun Western Wall prayers

Leaders of four major international Jewish organizations have politely demanded that Prime Minister Yair Lapid take “immediate action” to address the situation at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, after Orthodox protesters overran a number of security services there. prayer conservatives last week.

“We respectfully believe that immediate action must be taken to – at the very least – ensure the safety, security and well-being of all who come to the entire Kotel area, as well as to ensure that all worshipers enjoy the same level of respect we would expect if they were our own families – because it is our own Jewish family! wrote the heads of the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod.

Last Thursday, several dozen Orthodox men and boys entered the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, an area south of the main square also known as Robinson’s Arch, outfitted with whistles and placards, as ‘a number of families across the United States held a waiting bar. mitzvah ceremonies for their children there. Youths attempted to disrupt services, whistling, calling worshipers ‘Nazis’ and ‘animals’, and at one point tearing up a prayer book, after which a boy used a torn page to wipe himself the nose.

Lapid spoke out against the incident on Tuesday in response to a question from a reporter.

“I am against any violence at the Western Wall against people who want to pray as their faith allows. This cannot go on,” Lapid said, speaking to reporters in Paris after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

In the letter, officials from the four organizations said whistleblowing was not a sufficient response to this type of behavior.

“Words of support are not enough, and concrete actions must be taken to make Jews of all persuasions feel at home, safe and welcome in the Kotel and in Israel,” they wrote.

The letter was delivered to Lapid on Tuesday, a Jewish Federations spokesperson said.

Pages torn from a siddur by young Orthodox men in the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on June 30, 2022. (Masorti Movement)

The organizations have warned that these types of incidents strain the already strained ties between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.

“This is the basic ‘derech eretz'” – a Hebrew term meaning roughly common courtesy – “of Israelis welcoming Jews from all over the world who come to celebrate their [celebrations] in the Jewish state, follow all established rules for such an event, engage in no provocation, demonstrate nothing but “ahavat Yisrael” – love of Israel – and are nonetheless subject to conduct which should embarrass every Jew of every level or style of Jewish life. practice. No effort to unite or strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jews can be successful as long as such behavior is allowed to continue,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Michael Siegal, the outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors; Ya’akov Hagoel, president of the World Zionist Organization and acting head of the Jewish Agency; Mark Wilf, new Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency; Doron Almog, the new head of the Jewish Agency; Julie Platt, President of the Jewish Federations of North America; Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America; Steven Lowy, Chairman of the World Board of Keren Hayesod; and Sam Grundwerg, President of Keren Hayesod.

The letter was addressed to Lapid, but copies were also sent to Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai and Deputy Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana.

World Jewish leaders have separated this issue from that of the so-called Western Wall Compromise, a largely Jewish Agency-brokered deal that would see non-Orthodox streams of Judaism represented in the running of the holy site.

Ultra-Orthodox youths break up a bar mitzvah ceremony in the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on June 30, 2022. (Laura Ben-David)

“We understand that there are differences of opinion within the Knesset and even within your government over the Kotel deal. We are well aware of your support for this agreement. However, this is not about the Kotel deal,” they wrote to Lapid.

The heads of organizations wrote that they “look forward to hearing what the government can do to immediately address this issue”.

“We stand ready to work with you in any way we can to assist you in this urgent matter,” they wrote.

Yizhar Hess, the former leader of the Masorti Movement – Israel’s equivalent of the Conservative Movement – and the current vice president of the World Zionist Organization, reiterated the call for action, not words, in response to the violent protest against the egalitarian section.

An ultra-Orthodox youth wipes his nose with a page torn from a siddur at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on June 30, 2022. (Screen capture: Masorti Movement on Twitter)

“This letter is incredibly appropriate – very polite but also very aggressive. “Statements won’t help anymore,” the letter read, and I couldn’t agree more,” said Hess, who did not sign the missive.

Hess called the actions of the Orthodox youth a “hate crime” and said if they had happened anywhere else in the world it would be called anti-Semitism, echoing a similar remark made by Deborah Lipstadt on Tuesday. , a world authority on anti-Semitism and the current US Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism.

“These abhorrent actions hurt families celebrating bar and mitzvahs, desecrated the sanctity of the Western Wall, and at the same time undermined the position of the State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people,” he said. he declared.

“I hope that the government of Israel, even as an interim government, will know how to make the right decisions so that such incidents do not happen again,” Hess added.

Next week, the leaders of these organizations are due to gather in Jerusalem for the meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, during which they are also due to meet with senior Israeli officials.

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