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Naftali Bennett's Kotel platform

In a letter best described as blackmail, 597 clergy from 417 institutions run by the Conservative movement, the vast majority of whom live in the US, threatened that if he does nor make sure they receive their promised piece of real estate at the Western Wall plaza, they would revile him before their congregations in their high holiday sermons.

In their letter, personally delivered on Thursday afternoon to Israeli Consul-General in New York Dani Dayan, they wrote: “Mr. Prime Minister, you can influence the content of our Yamim Noraim [High Holy Days] messages. Will we speak of Israel’s reality in a language of betrayal or hope? Will we speak of struggle or achievement? We ask you to lead; we ask you to fulfill your promise to us that Israel will be the homeland of the entire Jewish people – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and secular.”

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The clergy expressed their “dismay, anger and sense of betrayal” over Netanyahu’s coalition government’s decisions to postpone indefinitely an agreement to establish mixed-sex prayer space in a good, visible spot by the Kotel (they don’t like the platform built for them two years ago by the Ministry of Religious services); and to deny Conservative clergy in Israel the right to run their own conversion enterprises.

Warning Netanyahu that his capitulation to his Haredi coalition partners could force them to attack Israel in their High Holiday sermons, the clergy, few of whom are entitled to vote in Israel, raged: “We find it unconscionable that Israel, the Jewish State, is the only democratic state in the world in which not all Jews are recognized or supported equally under the law or in the public square.”

That wildly misrepresents the reality at the Kotel, where all Jews (and gentiles) are invited to pray or meditate or just hang around, so long as they respect the rules, namely that men and women who stand some 20 feet near the ancient relic are separated by a mehitza (fence). Those who stand further back can mingle all they want.

The Conservative clergy called on Netanyahu to “immediately implement” the mixed-sex plan at the Kotel, and also make sure Israel’s conversion law “recognizes the diversity” of the Jewish people. Naturally, they could achieve both these goals should they and, say, those two million Conservative Jews they say follow them around the world made Aliyah and voted for non-Haredi parties. But that probably would take too long and an angry letter full of empty threats is so much cheaper.

What’s probably most stunning about the clergy’s letter is that they demand that the Prime Minister defy the will of his elected coalition partners and impose rules to benefit some US tourists – and all of it in the name of democracy. One wonders if they understand the meaning of Democracy.

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