More than a thousand Reform and Conservative Israeli Jews on Saturday night demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, protesting the freezing of the Kotel outline and the conversion law to recognize private conversions.
Participants in the rally included Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon, former Israeli ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor, Israeli Conservative Movement Director Yizhar Hess, Israeli Reform Movement Director, Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, and Women of the Wall Chairman Anat Hoffman.
Police blocked the streets adjacent to the Prime Minister’s residence during the rally.
“On Sunday, something happened in Israel,” Hess told the crowd. “Brazenly, with shortsightedness, arrogance, and with some members of the government even with malice – two decisions were made that boycott the Jewish people. A BDS emanating from the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Had the assembled 1,000 or so non-Orthodox Jews been able to bring these kinds of crowds and bigger ones everyday to the Kotel, they would have earned the right to pray there whichever way they wished. The problem is they just don’t have the numbers. A 2013 Israel Democracy Institute study revealed that 4% of Israeli Jews say they are affiliated with a Reform synagogue, and 3.2% to a Conservative synagogue. How many of them have strong enough an affiliation to “storm” the Kotel? Sadly, about as many as the number of Orthodox Jews available to ascend to the Temple Mount.
Alas, this dispute is not over a connection to God but over political turf, both regarding the Kotel and the conversions. Few Israelis really care. Which is why there’s such a yawning gap between the melodramatic, even heroic language being used by pro-Reform and Conservative political figures and their impact on rank and file Israelis.
Do non-religious Israelis believe Yizhar Hess when he warns that “the cancellation of the Western Wall agreement and the new conversion law hover over us like a black cloud that pollutes the ability of the State of Israel to call itself the nation-state of the Jewish people”? Is the State of Israel less able to see itself as a Jewish State because a small group of Israelis can’t pray next to their wives when they visit the Kotel?
How many non-religious Israelis even dream of praying anywhere, never mind at the Kotel?
Reform Rabbi Kariv stretched the numbers a little at the rally (Trump style), when he announced, “Thousands of men and women have come this evening to say, No more religious coercion and contempt for Reform and Conservative Judaism. The Prime Minister will find out in the coming weeks that we will not allow him to belittle the cry emanating from the Israeli street and the Jewish communities.”
Seriously? The Israeli street is crying for the few dozen Reform and Conservative (about 300 on Rosh Chodesh)? Where does one find a genuine concern on the part of the unwashed Israeli masses for mixed-sex prayer at the Kotel? In Dimona? Afula? Rosh Ha’Ayin?
“We will not allow an ultra-Orthodox monopoly in the field of conversion, and we will not give up until full implementation of the Western Wall outline,” Kariv vowed.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will ask the Supreme Court for a six-months’ extension, to allow him to establish a committee to go over what amounts to five years’ worth of studies and testimonies.
Naftali Bennett, eager to take advantage of the PM’s stressful moment, accused him of slapping the faces of world Jewry. Perhaps it was a slap in their faces – but was it not par for the course? Since when do non-citizens demand that a country where they do not reside, nor pay taxes, write its laws to fit their unique religious customs? They could ask, they could offer suggestions, after all, they do have a special place in their hearts for Israel. But demand? Then throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they wanted? That’s definitely the stuff that’ll get you a slap in the face.