Photo Credit: Nathan Roi via Wikimedia
Natan Sharansky

In light of Sunday’s decision by the Government of Israel to maintain the traditional men’s and women’s sections at the Kotel, with a special, raised platform, out of sight, for mixed prayers, the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel announced it “will be changing its entire agenda for the remaining two days of its meetings in Jerusalem, in order to address the ramifications of these decisions.” Also, according to the same press release, “The scheduled dinner with the participation of the Prime Minister has been canceled.”

Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky released a statement saying: “I must express my deep disappointment at today’s decision by the Government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.”


Sharansky recalled that “Five years ago, the Prime Minister asked me to lead a joint effort to bring about a workable formula that would transform the Western Wall into, in his own words, ‘one wall for one people.’ After four years of intense negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world’s Jewish communities.”

However, Sharansky continued, “Today’s decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult. The Jewish Agency nevertheless remains staunchly committed to that work and to the principle of one wall for one people.”

But its board of governors is very unhappy, and so dinner with the PM is off for now.

No doubt, Israel’s wealthy Jewish friends have many good reasons to be upset. For one thing, they read the surveys and realize their non-Orthodox constituency is rapidly declining. Young Jews in their fertile years don’t marry Jewish spouses, or, more likely, don’t marry at all. The Madoff disaster caused the agency about $60 million in budget cuts, and those funds are not coming back. The next generation of Jews is more likely to support BDS and J Street than AIPAC – and these are the ones who actually care.

So that for Netanyahu to renege on his promise to change the Kotel into a multi-denominational edifice had to hurt. And never mind the fact that he did it to preserve his 65-member coalition. Bibi’s friends in America expected him to commit political suicide for them, because, hey, they’re wealthy American Jews and he made a promise.

The primary mission of the largest Jewish nonprofit organization in the world, the Jewish Agency for Israel, is to “inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage, and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.”

It has done a stellar job over the years. Its involvement in encouraging Jews in developed countries to make Aliyah is significant, its support for specific social projects in Israel is tremendous, Israelis who know about the Jewish Agency’s accomplishments couldn’t be more grateful.

All of these contributions, however, do not give the board of governors of this very important agency the right to throw a tantrum. Prime Ministers notoriously disappoint their constituencies – God knows Bibi has disappointed his share. The quarrel over mixed prayers at the Kotel, as well as women’s prayer with talit and tefillin in the ladies’ section, is an internal Israeli matter. If there’s enough of an Israeli constituency that feels Netanyahu should pay the ultimate price for his “betrayal,” they should vote against him.

Indeed, had the million or so affiliated, non-Orthodox Jews (if such a figure is even reliable) made Aliyah and voted against him, Netanyahu would be toppled. But they don’t, for a variety of reasons, so, like the old woman said, put up or…


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