+61 3 9272 5644

Latest Israel News – 30th June

Official Statement and Video Clip from Dr. Danny Lamm, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia

The Zionist Federation of Australia strongly endorses the resolution which was unanimously supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel yesterday regarding the Knesset decisions on the issues of conversion and on egalitarian prayer spaces at the Kotel.

ZFA President, Dr Danny Lamm (who is currently attending the board of governors meetings at the Jewish Agency for Israel in Jerusalem) said:

“News of these decisions has reverberated through the conference and the proposed agenda has been suspended in order to deal with the issues.

As I write, I am with a delegation from the board of governors at Knesset, meeting with a broad coalition of Knesset members across the board, making representations to the government to review and rescind the decisions. The conversion decision will potentially have disastrous impact on hundreds of thousands of olim who have converted through authorities other than the Haredi Chief Rabbinate. The decision to freeze implementation of the creation of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel has alienated many diaspora and Israeli Jews, who have been eagerly anticipating its creation over the past few years –  it is a decision which has the potential to create divisions rather than the unity which is the cornerstone of the Jewish Agency’s mission.”

The Gazan boy that Israel gave the ability to hear

This is Mohammed, a young “Palestinian” boy from Gaza who was born without the ability to hear.

Mohammed came to Israel from Gaza to get the treatment that will give him the ability to hear for the first time in his life!

This treatment which was done in the Israeli hospital Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, included a sophisticated technology and treatment that was executed by the dedicated Israeli team of physicians.

Mohammed is just one of many “Palestinian” children from the West Bank and Gaza who have undergone cochlear implant surgeries at this Israeli hospital over the years allowing them to overcome deafness.

Hadassah Ein Kerem is known as a beacon for coexistence with a diverse staff that includes both Israeli and Arab medical professionals.

This is the Israeli story.

In Jerusalem a Flash Mob Can Pop Up Anywhere

There’s something about a flash mob that appeals to us, especially when it pops up in the streets of Jerusalem. It reinforces our belief that Israel is a funny and happy country, despite what the world press writes about it.

It is a routine day in Jerusalem’s First Station compound, a moment before the end of 2015. With the first sounds of a popular Israeli song, Shoshana by Avraham Tal, dozens of dancers from one of the city’s community centers pop out of nowhere for a Jerusalem flash mob.

Sharansky: We may solve Western Wall and conversion crises. I’m not sure we can rebuild trust

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, said he believes the two profound crises that have erupted in ties between Israel and much of the US Jewish community — over prayer at the Western Wall and conversion — can and will be resolved.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, he said the legislation on conversion approved by ministers on Sunday — which would cement an ultra-Orthodox monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel — would likely not go through in its current format. From his contacts with ministers and Knesset members, he said, he does not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can muster a majority to pass the legislation in its current form.

As for Netanyahu’s shock decision to freeze implementation of a painstakingly negotiated agreement to give non-Orthodox streams of Judaism a recognized, formal role in the oversight of a permanent, pluralistic prayer area slightly to the south of the main Western Wall prayer area, Sharansky said he believed a “formula” would be found to enable the agreement to go ahead.

“You don’t have to call it ‘recognition,’” he posited. “But you do have to allow representatives of the Reform and Conservative to run the place where they pray. That’s the minimum condition from which all the negotiations started.” Sharansky said he couldn’t say what precise “formula” would be found, but “I believe that very quickly” it can be resolved.

At the same time, he expressed deep disappointment in Netanyahu’s handling of the affair — saying the prime minister had put narrow coalition interests above the wider needs of the Jewish people. He noted, incidentally, that he did not believe the government would have fallen if Netanyahu had resisted ultra-Orthodox pressure on the issues.

And he said that the precious trust that had been established between Israeli and Diaspora leaders, as the Western Wall compromise took shape in recent years, may have been damaged irrevocably.

He also highlighted staggering ignorance among Israeli government ministers about Reform and Conservative Judaism — streams of Judaism with which the majority of American Jews are affiliated. “When I said to the government a year or two ago, Do you know that 85% of AIPAC supporters are Reform and Conservative Jews, half of the government were shocked. They really thought they were supporters of boycotts of Israel, all these crazies from J Street, Breaking the Silence. That’s all.”

Lots of Israelis are similarly ignorant, he added. “There are many Israelis, good Israelis, good Zionists, loving Jews, who believe that Reform is a kind of sect which destroyed Judaism from the inside in America and now they are looking for more places to destroy, because that is how they live, by destroying. That now they are trying to come here.

Added Sharansky: “I say to them, You know, that’s exactly what anti-Semites were saying about Jews in Russia.”

The Times of Israel spoke to Sharansky at his Jewish Agency office late on Tuesday afternoon. The following is an edited transcript:

The Times of Israel: Do you think this crisis can be solved? And if so, how?

Natan Sharansky: Look, this crisis has to be solved, because it’s too important for the future of our unity.

On the one hand, it was very upsetting, it seemed awful, that just when our (Jewish Agency) Board of Governors started their meetings here, and were coming for a short visit with the government, these two decisions were taken, one after another — maybe the most painful decisions you could imagine for the American Jewish community.

On the other hand, the timing could not be better, when you think about it: Imagine if it had happened two weeks later, or five weeks later. You wouldn’t have had angry representatives here of all the main communities, who immediately mobilized to work.

We have a lot of big challenges — budget challenges, organizational challenges. These were all put aside. Everybody was mobilized. And we delivered a message.

All of these (US Jewish leaders) were receiving a lot of emails from people in their communities who are angry, and were saying, Enough is enough. They had to make those messages heard. They were speaking to the ministers and members of Knesset, and explaining.

What’s the solution — on the conversion law, and on the Western Wall?

As regards the law, it has to be stopped. And yesterday, we had meetings with (Ministers) Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. I was speaking to all of them 15 minutes before the vote on the bill (in the cabinet on Sunday), and they didn’t understand (what the implications were). Now they understand and they’ve started looking for ways to change something (in the planned legislation).

They say it is important to stop foreign workers coming here (and converting). But there are much simpler ways to deal with that.

So it will be amended?

We were in the Knesset today. Half of the people who were speaking to us about this were from the coalition. I don’t really understand how the prime minister is going to have a majority for this law. So I think it can be stopped.

As to the Kotel, it’s more difficult, because it’s not Knesset legislation.

But Tzachi Hanegbi (the minister charged by Netanyahu with resolving the crisis) who came today to speak to us, he changed tone. He said, the physical part (of the pavilion for pluralistic prayer) we will start implementing immediately. He said the other part (regarding its formal oversight), which is the problematic part, we’ll have to negotiate on how to implement it.

That’s already different from ‘We’ll freeze it, we’ll stop it, we cannot do it.’

(The difficult part) is the question of recognition (for non-Orthodox Judaism in the oversight of the pluralistic prayer area). The prime minister says, I recognize (the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism), but as a government, I cannot do it.

He said, ‘My government can’t’?

Bibi was very frank. He didn’t try to… (Sharansky wiggles his hands.)

He said: I do believe that all the Jews are pulling for us, and I recognize all of them. But what to do? We have a coalition. Some of our (coalition) partners can’t recognize them. And they demand from us to cancel all the agreements (about the Western Wall). I’m not ready to cancel. I’m ready to freeze.

Well, cancel or freeze, that’s just playing with words. I can’t explain that to a Reform rabbi in St Louis.

So how do you solve it?

I’ve already heard from the ministers, never mind members of Knesset, that we have to go back and talk about it. You don’t have to call it “recognition.” But you do have to allow representatives of the Reform and Conservatives to run the place where they pray. That’s the minimum condition from which all the negotiations started.

I believe that with public opinion understanding this better and better, the pressure will grow, and it can be implemented.

Whether it will be this or that (precise) formula, the thing is that it will be a respected place of prayer, where they don’t have to hide from anybody, and where they will be able to run their own prayer, and not have to depend on this government minister or that bureaucrat who today changes his opinions. That’s the minimum which is demanded.

At this moment, the government decided not to implement it. I believe that very quickly, it can be changed.

What is clear is that, despite the fact that this topic was so widely discussed in recent years, the majority of Israelis don’t understand it, and some people in the West don’t understand what we are talking about. We have now to accelerate our campaign of explaining.

In the last couple of years, I was speaking a lot in Israel. I discovered unbelievable ignorance (when it comes to non-Orthodox Judaism). The prejudices…

What do Israelis not know about non-Orthodox Judaism?

There are many Israelis, good Israelis, good Zionists, loving Jews, who believe that Reform is a kind of sect which destroyed Judaism from the inside in America and now they are looking for more places to destroy, because that is how they live, by destroying. That now they are trying to come here.

I say to them, You know, that’s exactly what anti-Semites were saying about Jews in Russia.

When I said to the government a year or two ago, Do you know that 85% of AIPAC supporters are Reform and Conservative Jews, half of the government were shocked. They really thought they were supporters of boycotts of Israel, all these crazies from J Street, Breaking the Silence. That’s all.

And what do you say? The truth is…

The truth is that in the conditions of the Diaspora, to survive and not be assimilated is a big challenge. From the beginning, 200 years ago, when Jews started living among gentiles, and those of them who wanted to continue living actively among gentiles but to feel themselves Jewish at home, some of them went for different forms of Judaism.

It’s not the place where I pray, the place where I talk to God. But it is the place where a lot of Jews, who want to stay being Jewish, are gathering.

So the State of Israel, if it continues to say that it is home for all the Jews, definitely has to say to them: We want you. But we also want your communities, we want your rabbis, your grandchildren.

So many Jews in the Diaspora say (to Israel), Be democratic like us. But they don’t understand that we’re doing something much (more challenging) than them: We are trying to be democratic in the Middle East.

Equally, many Jews in Israel say (to the Diaspora), Be not assimilated like us. We’re religious or secular. But they don’t understand that (Diaspora Jews) are doing something much more difficult. How to not be assimilated in America is not the same as how to not be assimilated in Israel.

They are using these tools (of different streams of Judaism). If we could invent tools now, at a time of the existence of the State of Israel, maybe we would invent different tools. But these are the tools that exist.

Our prime minister, however, does understand the Diaspora. He does understand the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. He does understand how much of a commitment there is to Israel. He must have known how this would play out. And I’m not sure his coalition would have fallen over this. He could have told the ultra-Orthodox parties: This is the deal.

I’m sure his coalition wouldn’t have fallen.

His advisers really failed, by not even telling him the timing was so bad. Which (paradoxically) is good. God forbid they had told him, and he’d done it two weeks later.

But still…

Still. I told him at this government meeting (on Sunday), which is what I say all over the world: Mr. Prime Minister, you know better than any other prime minister in Israel what is American Jewry. And that’s why you worked harder than any other (on this). Don’t undermine your own work.

And he answered: I believe it. I feel it. I want it. But at this moment part of my coalition demands to do this. I’m doing something to save my coalition.

That’s not exactly what he said, but that was his message. Very open.

So he behaved like a politician who has to respond to the immediate need of the coalition.

That contradicts with him as a Jewish leader who really knows, who understands the historical process and the importance of keeping the deep contact (with the Diaspora).

I’m particularly sorry, because he had succeeded — and we did our best to help him — to build relations with the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements during these negotiations which never before existed. There was a lot of trust. Direct telephone calls. Meetings. Cooperation. Coordination. And I felt great pride in this.

I do believe that we can overcome these (current) crises. I’m not sure we will be able to restore this type of relationship and trust. And that’s a big loss. (the Times of Israel)

Survey: Most Israelis favor religious pluralism

Shortly after the government rescinded a plan for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, the Ruderman Family Foundation released a recent poll illustrating that most Israelis believe in pluralism and feel the government is out of touch with public sentiment.

The foundation, an organization committed to bridging the gap between Israelis and US Jewry, also condemned the decision upon releasing the poll on Tuesday.

The omnibus survey was conducted by Dialog in phone interviews with 500 Israeli Jews, including men and women of all religious affiliations and social classes.

It was taken just before the government’s original decision to approve the contested section last January.

It found that 82% of Israelis believe that all Jews, including Reform and Conservative, should feel the Western Wall belongs to them and that every Jew, regardless of affiliation, should feel welcome in Israel.

“The decision of the Israeli government to freeze the plan for a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall will have distressing ramifications on the vital relationship between Israel and the influential American Jewish community,” foundation president Jay Ruderman said.

“The rift between Israel and the Jewish community of America will have a direct influence on Israel’s security, economy and social resilience that will only worsen,” he said.

According to the eight-question survey that also asked subjects about their views on American Jewry, 67% said the connection has a direct impact on the relationship between the two countries.

Moreover, 59% of Israelis agreed that distancing from American Jewry was a threat to state security.

“The State of Israel was established as the state of the Jewish people, and it seems to me both surprising and strange that the prime minister has surrendered to domestic political pressure that undermines the basic values on which Israel was founded,” Ruderman said.   (Jerusalem Post)

Ex-Prime Minister Olmert granted early release from prison

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was granted early parole on Thursday and may be released from prison as soon as Sunday, a parole board decided Thursday.

The parole board decided to cut Olmert’s sentence by a third, which is a common practice in Israel for prisoners who have not committed violent crimes and display good conduct in prison. The release might be delayed if prosecutors decide to file an appeal.

“He was very excited. He was very happy,” Eli Zohar, an attorney representing Olmert, said of the parole decision. “He hopes very much the prosecution will not ask to delay his release.”

Olmert was convicted in three separate trials. The first, known as the Talansky trial, focused on the illicit funds he received from American businessman Morris Talansky. That trial culminated with his conviction on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and the receipt of illicit benefits under aggravated circumstances, resulting in an 8-month prison sentence.

In the second trial, known as the Holyland trial, Olmert was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being was found guilty of accepting bribes in his capacity as Jerusalem mayor and later as a cabinet minister in exchange for cutting red tape in various real estate projects.

He was also convicted of obstruction of justice as part of a plea bargain in a separate trial, for which he was sentenced to an additional month behind bars.

A lawyer by profession, Olmert began his political career in the 1970s as a right-wing lawmaker who targeted organized crime in Israel. In January 2006, after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke from which he never recovered, Olmert was named interim prime minister. Later that year, Olmert won a general election and retained the prime minister’s seat.

While initially enjoying high approval ratings, his poll numbers dropped to historic lows in the wake of his conduct during the Second Lebanon War that summer. His popularity never recovered, and when the Morris Talansky affair emerged in late 2008, he was prodded to tender his resignation.

Over the past several weeks, Olmert resurfaced in the headlines after police raided a publishing house over suspicions that a memoir he was writing in prison contained security secrets that had not been cleared by the Israeli Military Censor’s Office.

Olmert was taken to hospital last week after complaining of chest pains. He was returned to prison on Tuesday after tests and treatment.

At this point, a political comeback seems unlikely. A court found that his crimes entailed “moral turpitude,” which under Israeli law would preclude Olmert from running for public office for seven years after his release, when he will be 78   (Israel Hayom)

Knesset speaker, once a prisoner in Siberia, addresses Russian parliament

Thirty years after his release from Soviet camps, where he was subjected to forced labor as punishment for clandestine Zionist activity, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday became the first Israeli politician to address Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, in a triumphant turnaround for the one-time “Prisoner of Zion.”

“Even in my best dreams, I didn’t believe I would reach this moment,” Edelstein told Russian lawmakers in Hebrew, the language that in 1984 landed him a three-year forced labor sentence for covertly teaching.

“Shalom aleichem!” he greeted the Russian lawmakers, to applause.

In his 15-minute speech, split between Hebrew and Russian, the Knesset speaker cast Islamist terrorism as the “Nazism of the 21st century,” appealing to Russian national pride over its defeat of the Nazis during World War II with a call to likewise vanquish the new brand of “absolute evil.”

Edelstein also largely refrained from criticizing Moscow over its dark past and current alliances with terror powerhouse Iran.

“In the 21st century, terrorism has replaced Nazism as the absolute evil,” he said in Russian. ”To overcome it, the atmosphere in 1945 at the time of the meeting on the Elbe River must be renewed,” he added, referring to a key meeting between US and Soviet troops in Germany that was seen as a turning point in ending World War II.

He specifically encouraged Russian lawmakers to create “an atmosphere of mutual respect between different countries,” and said Israel would continue to try to create a global alliance against terrorism.

“For over years, tidings have come from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, of justice and the war against evil,” he said. “Even today, Jerusalem is leading the fight against terrorism, and we will not rest until we win this war and peace is achieved.”

In his address, the Knesset speaker outlined security threats facing Israel, from Hezbollah in the north to Hamas in the south.

“Behind Hezbollah and Hamas stands Iran,” which aspires for regional expansion and “spreads its ideologies of hatred of mankind, which threaten all the nations of the world,” he added.

Russia is fighting alongside Iran in Syria in a bid to keep President Bashar Assad in power.

Edelstein also distanced his past experiences and former Soviet animosity against Israel from attitudes in modern-day Russia.

Noting that Israel was marking the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, he recalled, in Russian: “The Soviet Union supported the Arab nations without hesitation and cut its diplomatic ties with the State of Israel. From then on, all praise for the Jewish state was perceived as underground activity against the Soviet Union, every cultural Jewish matter in the Hebrew language, and certainly the desire to move to Israel — all these were grounds for persecution.

“Luckily and to the benefit of both of our nations, these days are in the past,” he immediately added. “Over 25 years have passed since the renewal of diplomatic ties, and I am certain this time did not pass in vain.”

“Obviously not all the problems will be solved, and we certainly have something to aspire to, but there is no doubt we are on the right track,” he later said, noting the economic ties and visa agreements between the two countries.

From the halls of the Federation Council, Edelstein was to embark Wednesday afternoon on a nostalgia tour of the city, including a stop at the prison cell where he was detained for months until his trial.

In 1979, the Ukraine-born Edelstein applied for an emigration visa to move to Israel, which Soviet authorities rejected. He was ostracized and relegated to the ranks of the “refuseniks” — those denied permission to leave for new lives in Israel.

Over the next few years, Edelstein taught Hebrew and Zionism covertly in the Soviet Union, until his 1984 arrest in his Moscow apartment on a trumped-up drug possession allegation. After a brief trial, he was sent to various labor camps near Siberia and sustained a serious injury in one after falling from a watchtower. In May 1987, after serving two years and eight months, he was released. Edelstein immigrated to Israel two months later with his wife, Tatiana (Tanya), now deceased.

After entering politics in the Likud party in 1996 and holding a number of ministerial portfolios, including the Immigration Absorption Ministry, Edelstein in 2013 was appointed the Knesset speaker and has held that position ever since.

He was in Moscow for a three-day official visit at the invitation of Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko. (the Times of Israel)

The target for Iran’s recent missile test? A Star of David


Satellite image shows a Star of David shape targeted by an Iranian missile test

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon revealed on Wednesday a startling photo showing that Iran recently used a Star of David as a target for a ballistic missile test.

In a document shared with members of the UN Security Council, Danon shared a satellite image in which a Star of David, a Jewish symbol, is clearly visible.

According to a statement from the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, the Star of David was used as a target for a mid-range “Qiam” ballistic missile test in December last year.

Alongside the Star of David, a round crater caused by the rocket can also be seen.

“This missile test not only violates Security Council resolutions but also proves beyond doubt, once again, the true intentions of Iran to target Israel,” said Danon in his message to Security Council member states.

“The Security Council must act immediately against this demonstration of hate and Iran’s provocative violations that threaten the stability of the entire region,” added Danon. (Jerusalem Post)

Mortar falls on Golan while Netanyahu delivers speech nearby

An errant mortar shell fell in an open area in the northern Golan Heights on Wednesday evening, at the same time that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Katzrin at a ceremony marking the town’s 40th anniversary.

The IDF spokesman said that the IDF targeted the Syrian military position that fired the mortar.

This was the third day this week that the IDF has responded to mortar shells that landed in the Golan from the fighting taking place between Syrian rebel forces and the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Soon after the mortar fire and the IDF response, Netanyahu said in Katzrin what he has said repeatedly over the last week, that Israel will not tolerate a “spillover” of the fighting in Syria into Israel, and will respond to every incident of fire on Israel.

“We will attack those who attack us,” he said. “That is our policy, and we will continue it.”   (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian opens fire on soldiers in Hebron, is shot dead

IDF forces shot and killed a Palestinian man in the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday night after he opened fire on them.

The soldiers were carrying out searches for illegal weapons when they encountered the man. “In response to the immediate threat, forces fired towards him, killing him,” the army said in a statement.

An IDF spokesperson told The Times of Israel that the Palestinian shot at the troops first, leading the soldiers to shoot him.

No soldiers were wounded.

Since 2015, the army has been on a mission to try rid the West Bank of illegally made and traded weapons, raiding suspected gunsmithing workshops and warehouses on an almost weekly basis. The campaign has led to a sharp rise in the cost to terrorists of acquiring such weapons.

Forces have uncovered several arms workshops in Hebron and other West Bank cities as part of the effort to shut down arms manufacturing.

In the first quarter of 2017 the army shuttered 20 suspected gun-making workshops and seized about 150 guns, putting it on track to far surpass its numbers from last year. In 2016, the army closed 44 workshops and confiscated approximately 450 weapons.  (the Times Of Israel)

Foreign Ministry formally announces ‘significant visit’ of Indian PM

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday formally announced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day trip to Israel next month, hailing it as a “significant visit” and proof of the burgeoning ties between the two countries.

“This significant visit, the first of an Indian prime minister to Israel, takes place on the backdrop of marking 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel, and will further upgrade the ever-growing partnership between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Although the trip had not been formally announced before Wednesday, the July 4-6 visit had been expected for some time.

Israel’s Ambassador to New Delhi Daniel Carmon told reporters in India that the trip was of “unprecedented importance with bilateral ties going through changing paradigm and changed architecture where there is no zero sum game and commitments and good relations with both sides can be maintained without contradiction, News18 India quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

Carmon also said that Modi would be greeted upon his arrival at Ben Gurion International Aiport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an honor he said was normally reserved for the likes of the pope or a US president, News18 reported.

During his visit, Modi will meet with both Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin<, as well as hold other “high-level bilateral meetings” meant to “reflect the fabric of the Indo-Israeli relations,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Modi is also expected to attend alongside Netanyahu the signing of bilateral agreements in a number of fields, as well as visit an Indian cemetery in Haifa for Indian soldiers who died fighting in World War I, according to News18.

He will also hold a rally for Israelis of Indian descent.

In recent years, relations between New Delhi and Jerusalem have grown increasingly close diplomatically, militarily and economically. Israeli and Indian companies have recently sealed massive defense deals, and three ships from the Indian Navy were in Israel last month for three days of exercises.

India has also adjusted its traditional pro-Palestinian voting patterns at international forums in Israel’s favor even as Indian-Palestinian relations remain strong. Last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spent three days in New Delhi meeting with Modi, President Pranab and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

“The relationship between India and Palestine is built on the foundation of longstanding solidarity and friendship since the days of our own freedom struggle,” Modi said at the time. “India has been unwavering in its support of the Palestinian cause. And we hope to see the realization of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel.”

Despite this, Modi will reportedly not make a stop in the PA, in a move seen as highly unusual.

“This is going to be a purely bilateral visit. He is coming to visit us, and only us,” a senior official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel earlier this month. “It’s a great achievement for us.”

Most, if not all, foreign dignitaries who visit Israel also visit the PA and meet with Palestinian officials, either in Ramallah or in Bethlehem. Even leaders of Israel’s closest allies usually spend at least a few hours in Palestinian areas.  (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu defends suspending the Western Wall agreement. Here’s how.

Netanyahu defends suspending the Western Wall agreement. Here’s how.

By Ben Sales                  JTA

American Jewish leaders are calling it a betrayal.

They say that 17 months after achieving a historic agreement to provide a non-Orthodox space at Judaism’s holiest prayer site, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reneged in a Cabinet vote Sunday, effectively canceling the deal and caving to the interests of his haredi Orthodox coalition partners.

Netanyahu disagrees. Far from killing the compromise, he believes the vote has given it new life. And far from betraying Diaspora Jewry, he says the vote shows his concern for Jews around the world.

In a lengthy conversation Monday with a senior Israeli official, JTA was given some insight into Netanyahu’s defense of the vote freezing the 2016 Western Wall agreement: why he did it, what the vote leaves in place and what it means moving forward.

The agreement, which was passed by the Cabinet in January 2016, has three components. First is a physical expansion and upgrade of the non-Orthodox prayer section south of the familiar Western Wall plaza. Second is the construction of a shared entrance to the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections. Third is the creation of a government-appointed, interdenominational Jewish committee to govern the non-Orthodox section.

Sunday’s decision, the senior official said, leaves in place the physical expansion of the prayer site while suspending the creation of the interdenominational committee. Netanyahu’s haredi partners, the official said, objected to the idea that the committee amounted to state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism.

With the controversy over the committee frozen, the official said, actual building at the site can start unhindered and will be expedited.

“The symbolic piece was holding the practical piece hostage,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, told JTA. “What was frozen yesterday was the symbolic part. The practical part of advancing the prayer arrangements, that can now move forward. Regrettably, there are those on both sides who are spinning this as cancellation.”

However, several aspects of the project as it stands are murky. It isn’t clear whether the expansion of the site will proceed according to the dimensions outlined in the 2016 agreement. Nor is it clear whether construction will begin on the shared entrance to the site or whether the non-Orthodox space will have a staff, accessible prayer books and Torah scrolls, as promised in the agreement.

The official told JTA that the suspension of the deal is itself a compromise: the haredi parties wanted to cancel the deal altogether, a step he said that Netanyahu was unwilling to take. Freezing the agreement, the official said, allows for continued negotiations to rework it. It also may provide an acceptable answer to the Supreme Court, which is considering a petition to force the government to provide an “appropriate space” for non-Orthodox prayer at the wall.

The official added that “The prime minister takes Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry very seriously.”

But non-Orthodox leaders were not placated by these assurances.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, called Sunday’s vote “sleight of hand.” He is treating it as a cancellation of the agreement, given that the agreement had not been implemented nearly a year and a half after being passed.

“It’s not really a freeze, it’s a kill,” he said. “It’s already been frozen. It hasn’t been moving for 18 months. We were waiting, and assured by the prime minister that entire time that negotiations were happening and they would get back to us. That hasn’t happened.”

Jewish leaders also called the expansion of the prayer space insufficient. They noted that the shared entrance would grant the non-Orthodox space equal standing with the Orthodox section, but the current plan for expanding the space is unknown.

“The physical portion of this agreement was far more extensive, including opening the site to the main plaza, making it visible and accessible,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA. “What the government is currently planning to do in no way meets the promises and the details of this agreement.”

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall prayer group, whose activism led to negotiations over the wall, also said that any physical expansion of one of the most sensitive sites in the world would take years. Given the delays that have already plagued the process, Hoffman said she is hesitant to trust assurances from Netanyahu.

“We sat for three years in good faith, our group split over this, we paid such a price, how could I possibly believe you?” she recalls telling Tzachi Hanegbi, a government minister and Netanyahu ally, on Tuesday. “And now you’re going to compromise over the compromise?”

On Tuesday, at the conclusion of its board of governors’ meetings in Jerusalem,  Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky urged 200 employees who represent the agency abroad to prepare for criticism of the government’s suspension in the Diaspora. The night before, the Jewish Agency canceled its scheduled gala dinner with Netanyahu over the Cabinet vote.

According to a statement, Sharansky urged the emissaries to “listen to expressions of anger and criticism that are being heard in many Jewish communities and bring them to the attention of public figures and politicians in Israel.”

After meeting with the prime minister on Monday, Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told The Times of Israel that American Jewish groups plan to lobby Israelis to support their concerns about religious pluralism. American Jewish leaders, he said, will also invest more in lobbying Israeli lawmakers.

But the Israeli official told JTA that trying to force change in Israeli religious policy is what leads to acrimony over these issues. Better, he said, to let the laws change gradually and quietly.

“So what you have is, you have the status quo: a set of slowly evolving, informal rules,” the official said. “Often you get into trouble when one of the sides tries to formalize something by going to court or by legislation.”

Palestinian Rejectionism Means No Deal – Richard Baehr (Israel Hayom)

The Palestinians, much like Iran, do not accept the permanence of Israel. The creation of Israel has always been considered a disaster.

The Palestinians seemed to rely on demographic shifts and terrorism to eventually break down Israel’s will to resist.

Yet the now much higher Israeli Jewish fertility rate (more than three children per woman of child-bearing age, about the same as for Israeli Arabs and West Bank Arabs), along with the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, have significantly extended the horizons for when this supposed demographic advantage for the Palestinians would be realized.

The Trump administration, in its meetings with Palestinian officials, have demanded an end to incitement against Israel and a cutoff of Palestinian Authority payments to families of terrorists, many of whom had American blood on their hands.

These payments are a significant dollar amount when compared to total American aid to the PA, but are very popular among Palestinians.

Already there are hints about the PA continuing the payments in a different form that would provide an appearance that the program has ended.

The writer is a fellow at the Jewish Policy Center.