Israeli Technological Breakthrough Enabled Terror Tunnel Exposure and Destruction
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lauded new Israeli tech that enabled the discovery and demolition of a Hamas tunnel crossing from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
“I have said several times that we are developing breakthrough technology to deal with the tunnel threat. We are applying that technology,” Netanyahu told a Likud faction meeting shortly after a controlled explosion rocked the Gaza border area. “Today, we discovered and demolished it and we will continue to do so. We hold Hamas responsible for any violation of our sovereignty emanating from areas under its control and by persons subject to its authority.”
Liberman, too, said that IDF success in locating and destroying the tunnel was “the result of impressive operational capabilities, as well as a significant technological breakthrough, which allows us to best deal with the tunnel threat.”
He added: “The message is clear to all – we will not tolerate the violation of Israeli sovereignty, and I’m emphasizing the fact that the controlled explosion happened on our side of the border. This was a blatant violation of sovereignty, and any other norms practiced between companies, countries and organizations which respect themselves. This is proof that, despite the Palestinian reconciliation, that the Gaza strip remains a ‘kingdom of terror,’ and as far as we are concerned, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is responsible.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of the Security Cabinet who was highly critical of Israel’s preparedness to deal with the tunnel threat before the onset of the 2014 Gaza war, added: “The IDF has learned from Operation Protective Edge and is using its intelligence, technology, engineering and operational abilities to apprehend such attempts and ensure the security of those living near Gaza.”
Engineers are currently at work on a NIS 3 billion Gaza border fence that runs above and below ground and includes an underground concrete barrier armed with cameras and sensors due for completion by early 2019. It is unclear whether the tunnel blown up Monday was exposed during works on the barrier.
Col. (res.) Atai Shelach, the former commander of the IDF’s “Yahalom” combat engineering unit said in a call with the Israel Project however that the tunnel would be “neither the first and not the last tunnel that the IDF will explode”.
“It wouldn’t be a wild guess to assume that there are many [other tunnels]. They are improving their capabilities to dig more and more. From our side, we will try to prevent them from digging more and more and to expose [the tunnels].” (United with Israel)
Islamic Jihad official: Tunnel’s purpose was to abduct soldiers for swaps
The tunnel the IDF blew up was “meant to bring about the release of Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli prisons,” Khaled al-Batash, a senior Islamic Jihad official, said Tuesday.
Essentially, according to various media reports, that means it was intended to be used for the abduction of Israeli soldiers.
Al-Batash was speaking at the funeral of three of the terrorists who were killed Monday when the tunnel, which ran from Khan Yunis into Israel, collapsed on them when it was blown up by the IDF.
Al-Batash said Islamic Jihad will dig another tunnel for the exact same purposes.
“The uprising could hurt the enemy,” he said. “We are at full capacity, waiting for the next battle.”
Seven terrorists were killed in the collapse, among them a senior commander in the al-Quds brigades, the military arm of Islamic Jihad.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh also referred to the IDF operation, saying in a speech in Gaza that militant groups in Gaza will not be deterred.
“If the enemy believes, with this slaughter and massacre, it can impose the rules of the game, it is delusional. Our hands are higher, our sword is sharp and our desire is strong.”
“Our determination is stronger than this occupier,” he said.
“The response to this massacre, alongside holding on to our strategic option of resistance and the weapons of resistance, is to move forward toward restoring national unity because the enemy knows and realizes that our power is in our unity.
“It is not possible for a people under occupation to be victorious if it is not united in terms of vision, principles and strategies – most important of which is comprehensive resistance.”
Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot toured the Gaza border on Tuesday, met with senior commanders and praised the successful operation.
“This action adds to the many others – open or confidential – that IDF forces are taking and will keep taking against any threat at any given time,” he said.
“We are closely following the actions of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip,” Eisenkot continued. “Every response or attempt to harm Israeli sovereignty will be answered decisively and in a clear way, as we did in the past 24 hours.” (Jerusalem Post)
In Israel, Australian, New Zealand leaders mark landmark defeat of Turks in WWI
Israeli, Australian and New Zealand leaders gathered in southern Israel on Tuesday to mark the 100th anniversary of a key cavalry charge that helped clear the way to Jerusalem during World War I.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was joined by his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull and New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy in Beersheba, where the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) defeated Ottoman troops to gain control of a strategic crossroads.
Netanyahu hailed the battle as eventually helping lead to the creation of the state of Israel.
“Nearly 4,000 years ago Abraham came to Beersheba, the city of seven wells,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony, held in the city’s Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
“Exactly 100 years ago brave ANZAC soldiers liberated Beersheba for the sons and daughters of Abraham and opened the gateway for the Jewish people to re-enter the stage of history,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel salutes the sacrifice of these brave soldiers. We will never forget them. We will forever honor and treasure their memory.”
To Australians, “the battle has become part of our history, part of our psyche,” Turnbull said.
The audacious assault on entrenched Ottoman forces enabled the British advance into Palestine and “secured the victory that did not create the state of Israel, but enabled its creation,” Turnbull said.
“Had the Ottoman rule in Palestine and Syria not been overthrown by the Australians and the New Zealanders, the Balfour Declaration would have been empty words,” the Australian premier said.
Britain’s Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, said it viewed “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
New Zealand’s Reddy said the battle “changed political conditions in this region in the most profound way.”
‘That’s pretty special’
Organizers said 3,000 tourists from Australia and New Zealand came for the ceremonies, which saw the normally tranquil Beersheba, dubbed the capital of the Negev desert region, astir with dignitaries, security forces and media.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (C), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), and New Zealand Governor General Patsy Reddy (L) lay wreaths at the memorial for the fallen in the Battle of Beersheba during a ceremony in the British Cemetery in Beersheba on October 31, 2017, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba.
Kindergarteners holding small plastic Israeli flags were led into the ceremonies by chipper teachers, as teenagers in white shirts waited to pass security to enter the dedication of the nearby ANZAC museum.
Yair Nagid, head of Beersheba municipality’s cultural administration, said that 1,200 of the city’s pupils were attending the events.
Beersheba resident Hedva Chadad had not heard of the historic battle, but knew her two grandchildren would enjoy seeing the 100-horse march down Beersheba’s main Ha’atzma’ut Street by volunteer Australian riders in period uniform.
Speaking as she waited for the march with her grandchildren, Chadad said was not bothered by the roads leading to and from the cemetery being congested and partly closed.
“I think it’s very nice, what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s only once in a blue moon that this kind of thing happens.”
Members of the Australian Light Horse association ride through Beersheba, in the northern Israeli desert, on October 31, 2017, ahead of a reenactment of the historical fight of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division) where forces captured the city from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.
To Australian David Shipp, the ceremonies were the highlight of a tour his family was on, supported in part by his church and in honor of his history buff father’s 60th birthday.
The Beersheba battle was becoming “a bigger deal” to Australians than the one fought in World War I in Gallipoli, the 33-year-old Queensland resident said, in part because of the good ties between Israel and Australia.
New Zealander Tim Moore was visiting as part of a group of 200 people, some of them riding in the march.
The 65-year-old sheep and cattle farmer’s grandfather had participated in the Palestine campaign, and Moore had replicated a picture his grandfather took at the train station in Amman before arriving in Israel.
“That’s pretty special,” he said.
The riders were to stage a reenactment of the charge later Tuesday. (the Times of Israel )
A century later, a day devoted to the WWI Battle of Beersheba
Eighteen-year-old Kate Woodward, wearing a band uniform and holding a shimmering gold alto-saxophone, stood at the side of a dirt field in Beersheba on Tuesday watching as 100 horses marched and kicked up a dust storm in front of the leaders of Israel, Australia and New Zealand.
“Amazing,” is how she summed up the experience.
Woodward, from Perth, is a member of the Perth Hills and Wheatbelt Band from western Australia that entertained an audience of some 5,000 people who gathered on grounds just outside the Nahal Beersheba Park to watch what was billed as a re-creation of the cavalry charge that took place at the exact same place 100 years ago – a historic cavalry charge by 800 mounted Australian soldiers that led to the defeat of the Ottomans at Beersheba and, ultimately, throughout the Holy Land.
It wasn’t really a re-creation, though.
The horses on Tuesday didn’t gallop, they walked; and nobody played the part of the Ottomans firing machine guns from the trenches at the horses and riders. But none of that detracted from Woodward’s enthusiasm.
“This is historic,” said Woodward. “It is important that we recognize the Australians that fought here. It is important that they get noted. They fought for us and we need to recognize them.”
Members of the Australian Light Horse Association take part in a reenactment of the famous World War I cavalry charge known as the ‘Battle of Beersheba’ yesterday as part of the centenary commemorations in the southern city
Tuesday was that day of recognition.
The ceremony at Beersheba Park – a ceremony where Woodward’s band played songs like “Waltzing Matilda,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Hava Nagila,” – was the final event to commemorate the battle on a day that was full of commemorative events.
It began with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and New Zealand’s Governor-General Patsy Reddy taking part in a somber ceremony at the British Military Cemetery in Beersheba commemorating the 31 Australians and eight New Zealanders who died in that battle. The music, the prayers, the ceremony were all of a different place – Australia.
From there, the leaders went to initiate a new museum commemorating the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – and the spirit of ANZAC, the Australian and New Zealand soldiers – in Beersheba. This “spirit of ANZAC” forged on World War I battlegrounds is what is taught in Australian schools, Woodward commented, and is more than any one battle.
A cavalry parade marched the streets of Old Beersheba, followed by a memorial ceremony for New Zealand soldiers at nearby Tel Sheva. A century ago, New Zealand soldiers cleared out an Ottoman machine gun strong-point at the site that had a commanding position over Beersheba.
The ceremony there included the chilling cries of a Maori war chant, the first time – Netanyahu said – that Maori was probably ever spoken in an official capacity at Tel Sheva.
From there, it was to the Beersheba park and the marching horses.
Foreigners far outnumbered Israelis at the event, leading one journalist to quip that this was sort of like the Maccabiah Games – important for Australian Jews, less so for Israelis.
Nevertheless, there were some Israelis in the stands, including Avraham Shoshan, a middle-aged man who said his interest in the Australian role here was aroused by a monument to ANZAC he once saw near Kibbutz Be’eri.
“I’m curious,” he said. “I came here out of curiosity and also for the atmosphere.”
Shoshan, a Beersheba resident, did not have to come far.
But this was not so for Russell Anderson, who traveled here from Perth.
Anderson, who is not Jewish, is part of a Jewish National Fund trip that is following in the footsteps of the 4th Light Horse Brigade.
“It is important for us to realize the role Australia played here,” said Anderson, an Australian flag sticking out of his front pocket.
“Gallipoli is well known,” he added, referring to the disastrous 1915-1916 campaign in which 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders were among the 58,000 Allied forces killed. “But what happened here is less known, and it was a victory.” (Jerusalem Post)
Palestinian driver killed after not heeding Israeli soldiers’ call to stop car
The driver of a Palestinian vehicle in the West Bank was shot and killed after accelerating his car toward soldiers and not heeding their warnings to stop.
Muhammad Abdallah Ali Musa, 26, was shot twice and died of his injuries in the Tuesday morning incident. His sister, Latifa Abdallah, 33, was shot and wounded.
The Israel Defense Forces opened an investigation into the incident, which occurred near the Halamish settlement. A preliminary investigation on Tuesday ruled out terrorism as a motive, Ynet reported.
The soldiers reportedly had received a report of a car registered to a Palestinian driving suspiciously and were asked to stop it. The soldiers came to the road and signaled for the driver to halt, but instead he accelerated, the IDF said.
“The soldiers perceived the vehicle as a threat and consequently fired toward it in order to stop it,” the IDF said in a statement. (JTA)
PM said to ask Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to immigrate to Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked US President Donald Trump to allow convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to immigrate to Israel.
The request, reported by Channel 2 news Tuesday, came in light of economic goodwill gestures that Israel agreed to provide the Palestinians at the White House’s behest last May. That package included, among other things, increasing the number of building permits given to Palestinians living in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
Looking to capitalize on the newly garnered goodwill, Netanyahu raised the issue of the former American intelligence specialist, the report said. Pollard served nearly 30 years in prison on a conviction of spying for Israel and has been prevented from moving to the Jewish state since his 2015 release.
As part of the request, Netanyahu promised the White House that if it agreed to allow Pollard to emigrate, he would continue to be subject to the same restrictions imposed by the American court upon his release, the report said.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not deny the report, but told Channel 2 that Netanyahu raises the issue of Pollard’s with to move to Israel in nearly every meeting with American officials.
Pollard’s imprisonment had been a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations, with Israeli leaders petitioning their US counterparts for years in order to secure his release. After Netanyahu met with US Vice President Mike Pence in February, the latter reportedly agreed to consider the issue, and it was decided that Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer would personally take it on.
In May, a US federal appeals court rejected Pollard’s request to lift restrictive parole conditions that were established following his release two years ago.
The parole terms require him to stay in his New York home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.; to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and to wear a GPS monitoring device at all times.
Pollard, 62, also must remain in the United States for five years, despite his desire to move to Israel.
Pollard’s attorney argued that the terms are overly severe because Pollard cannot remember the classified information he provided in 1984 and 1985 to Israeli officials and that he is not a flight risk, Reuters reported.
But the court pointed to his “propensity” to hand out classified intelligence, as well as the fact that the info he had leaked remained under wraps.
The parole condition “minimized the risk of harm he continued to pose for United States intelligence,” the court said, according to Reuters.
Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with providing Israeli contacts with hundreds of classified documents he had obtained as a civilian intelligence specialist for the US Navy. (the Times of Israel)
Sharansky warns of new flare-up in Israel-Diaspora crisis
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky warned Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday that another major flare-up between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is brewing on the horizon, and will hit if the government fails to take action on the Western Wall and conversion.
“I have to warn you that the crisis continues. And in two months we might have a new crisis,” Sharansky said at the beginning of a special session of the Knesset’s Caucus for Strengthening the Jewish People.
Addressing a room packed with Jewish leaders from across the word and Israeli MKs from various political parties, Sharansky thanked the government for its willingness to discuss the matters, but lamented that no progress has been made since June, when the cabinet surprisingly canceled an agreement it had reached with non-Orthodox streams and Jewish organizations.
“We agreed to a six-month ceasefire, in which there would be no moves in the Knesset and no moves in the Supreme Court,” he said. “But four months have passed and nothing happened. If in two months I will be asked again to organize a ceasefire, I won’t be able to.”
Sharansky went on to urge the gathered legislators to “take very seriously” the controversy over pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and proposed legislation on conversion to Judaism. “This is not about coalition or opposition. It’s about acting on behalf of the unity of the Jewish people.”
In June, the cabinet suspended the January 2016 agreement, reached after four years of negotiations, that promised significant upgrades to the pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall. It also froze a decision to advance a controversial bill that would deny state recognition to conversions conducted in Israel by rabbis — including Orthodox rabbis — not approved for the task by the state rabbinate.
After vociferous and across-the-board protests from the Jewish world, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed Moshe Nissim, 82, a former justice and finance minister to find a solution to the conversion controversy. He also tapped Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to sort out a compromise at the Western Wall.
On Tuesday, Hanegbi told the delegates of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors that Israel plans to go ahead and renovate the pluralistic prayer platform at the Wall. But Hanegbi made plain the government will not fully implement the January 2016 deal, which provided for joint oversight — including representatives of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism — of a permanent pavilion. Most notably, he insisted that Israel will not build a common entrance to all three prayer areas — the Orthodox men’s and women’s section and the so-called “Ezrat Yisrael” plaza, where men and women can worship together.
During Tuesday’s hour-and-a-half-long session in the Knesset, countless lawmakers — from the opposition and the coalition — took the mic to express their appreciation for Diaspora Jewry and their concern over the current crisis, but did not offer any concrete proposals to solve it.
“I want to tell you that the relation [between Israel and] American Jewry is very, very important to us. It’s true that it doesn’t always look that way. But it’s very important,” said coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), who also co-chairs the Caucus for Strengthening the Jewish People.
“We’re aware of your needs and the influence you have in America and in Israel, but we also have internal problems,” he added, likely alluding to constraints stemming from his party’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. “So we always try to navigate between all different existing problems. But things will eventually find a solution and they will work. Like everything in Israel, things take time,” he said.
Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren (Kulanu) was one of few coalition members to explicitly call on the government to implement the original Western Wall agreement. In the interim, however, he recommended insisting on improvements to the physical appearance of the pluralistic platform.
MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) went even further, accusing the government of betraying Diaspora Jewry.
“In basic human relationships, a deal is a deal. We can’t break a deal. Here I believe the Israeli government has turned its back [on Diaspora Jewry], and the responsibility to solve this issue is on the Israeli government,” the US-born freshman lawmaker said, lest parts of the Jewish people become alienated from the Jewish state.
Wrapping up the session, Jewish Agency boss Sharansky once again reminded the Israeli politicians that time is running low for a solution, as in just a few weeks the “ceasefire” agreed upon in June will expire.
“We deeply appreciate the strong sentiments expressed by all of the Knesset members who spoke on the importance of resolving the issues before us,” David Breakstone, the Jewish Agency’s number two, told The Times of Israel after the debate. “What is important for us to hear now is what practical steps are being made in order to advance these issues.” (the Times of Israel)
Archaeologists discover rare remains of pregnant woman in King Solomon’s Mines
A consortium of archeologists and researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered the 3,200-year-old remains of a pregnant Egyptian woman in Southern Israel’s Timna Valley, adjacent to an ancient Egyptian temple in an area once known as “King Solomon’s Mines.”
Situated in an arid climate with scarce natural resources to sustain life, few human corpses – and no previous female remains – have been unearthed near the copper mines, which were believed to have been exploited for 500 years between the 9th and 14th centuries BCE.
Noting that the last time human remains were uncovered in the Timna Valley was in 1964, archeologist Erez Ben Yosef, who has led the Tel Aviv University team excavating the site since 2012, said the finding is extremely unusual.
“It is very rare to find human remains in Timna, and it is the first time we found a woman,” Ben-Yosef told Haaretz.
“There are no water sources in Timna and it is very inhospitable, so no one ever settled there permanently,” he continued. “Home was close to water sources, and people only came for brief expeditions during the winter to mine copper.”
Due to the unwelcoming climate, Ben-Yosef postulated that the few burial plots in the Timna Valley were vacant because “people would be buried there temporarily and their bones would be taken back home by a later expedition.”
Moreover, he said looters have been known to steal remains from the few tombs found in the area, most of which were reserved for ancient aristocracy.
Portions of the woman’s skeleton were initially discovered during the final days of last winter’s excavation season, resulting in a long delay before Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine physical anthropologists Israel Hershkovitz and Hila May could extricate and analyze the remains.
The dig resumed last summer, when it was determined that the upper half of the corpse was missing, while the lower part – including the remains of the fetus, believed to be in its first trimester – was intact.
May estimated that the woman was likely in her 20s when she died, although due to a lack of collagen in the bones necessary for radiocarbon dating, an accurate determination remains difficult.
The only clue that helped the researchers deduce any information about the woman’s identity were two well-preserved glass beads found in her tomb.
According to Deborah Sweeney, an Egyptologist at the university, the beads link the woman to the Egyptian goddess Hathor, known as the protector of miners, for whom the adjacent temple was built to ensure the miners’ safety and bounty.
Additionally, remains of musical instruments and a carving of a woman playing a sistrum – an ancient percussion instrument – were found. That led Sweeney to theorize the pregnant woman likely traveled to the copper mines to serve as a singer or musician for Hathor – also known as the goddess of music, love, fertility and natural resources.
“Unfortunately, she must have died there for some reason, and was buried close to the temple so that Hathor would protect her,” Sweeney said.
“It’s actually quite sad,” she continued. “She was probably quite adventurous to go so far away from home, which was rare for women in Egypt. But she never came back.” (Jerusalem Post)
Jews of the Diaspora Bring Their Cause to the Israeli Public
by David Halbfingeroct The New York Times
In June, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel abruptly suspended a hard-won accord to give non-Orthodox Jewish men and women a more dignified place to worship together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and then moved to bolster Orthodox control over conversions to Judaism in Israel, the backlash was swift and fierce.
Protesters rallied outside Mr. Netanyahu’s home. Powerful American allies angrily demanded meetings. Philanthropists in the diaspora threatened to cut off their aid to Israel.
Insults flew. Mr. Netanyahu accused the Reform movement, which has many adherents in the United States but relatively few in Israel, of using the Western Wall agreement to gain recognition in the country “via the back door, secretly.”
Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders accused the prime minister of lying and trying to incite the ultra-Orthodox against them. The Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem likened Reform Jews to Holocaust deniers.
With old arguments over who is a Jew playing out nastily again in public, it seemed that major portions of American and Israeli Jewry were heading for a damaging breach.
In the Old City on Monday, visiting leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements who had pressed for the changes at the Western Wall could do little more than fume, as a minister in Mr. Netanyahu’s government described for them a weak consolation prize: minor improvements to the tucked-away space where mixed-gender prayer has long been confined, largely unseen and all but undiscoverable to those who are not specifically looking for it.
“A few little crumbs,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, bitterly called it.
Yet rather than ratcheting up the name-calling war with Mr. Netanyahu’s government, Rabbi Jacobs and other leaders of the Jewish Agency of Israel — a group that supports Jewish diversity and inclusion and that helped negotiate the Western Wall agreement — now say they are starting an ambitious campaign to influence public opinion about the needs of diaspora and less-religious Jews where they are understood least, and where their political clout is feeblest: in Israel itself.
On Tuesday, 120 of the group’s international board of governors plan to descend on Parliament, meeting with dozens of Israeli legislators, including some members of the ultra-Orthodox parties, in what Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who leads the Jewish Agency, called “our biggest lobbying effort ever.”
“The problem is not just that the prime minister gave in to political pressure,” he said in an interview. “The ministers feel that they don’t have to pay a political price, and that’s because there’s not that much awareness” of the needs of non-Orthodox Jews. “So we’re doing a lot of other work to make Israeli society know this problem better.”
The lobbying day is to be followed by an advertising and media campaign, educational efforts in Israeli schools and trips for Israeli lawmakers and leaders to the United States “to give them a real-life glimpse of what and who we are,” said Rabbi Jacobs of the Reform movement. “The assumptions and mistaken understandings of what world Jewry are about are legion.”
The fight over equitable access to the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, is in a sense a fight over real estate. Popular images of Jewish men worshiping at the wall in prayer shawls and phylacteries show only a small stretch of the ancient retaining wall for the Temple Mount. A large section of that plaza is reserved for men, a smaller one for women.
Some distance to the south is Robinson’s Arch, an area of the wall designated in 2003 to host egalitarian prayer services. Yet the limitations of that setting — on a temporary platform, down a lengthy staircase from the main plaza, surrounded by fences and other obstructions, and accessible through an isolated gate — have upset Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders.
Their complaints appeared to be satisfied in January 2016, when after years of negotiations Mr. Netanyahu’s government approved a compromise that would create an improved egalitarian prayer space, along with a joint entrance to all the Western Wall prayer areas. Reform and Conservative Jews were to be given a stake in a committee overseeing the complex’s management. All told, the agreement would give non-Orthodox worshipers, at least to a degree, the feeling of equal status.
Nearly a year and a half went by without its being adopted, however. And in June, just as the Jewish Agency was meeting in Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu bowed to fierce pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and announced he was suspending the agreement.
In a meeting at Robinson’s Arch on Monday, Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister without portfolio in Mr. Netanyahu’s government, assured leaders of the Jewish Agency that plans were continuing to improve the prayer space, and he said that management of it would be entrusted to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which he said could be trusted to treat all branches of Judaism fairly.
“It’s true that the entrance is not going to be equal,” Mr. Hanegbi added, acknowledging a key grievance arising from Mr. Netanyahu’s reversal, and then minimizing it: “But I don’t think that the Jewish people for 3,500 years prayed for an entrance.”
Mr. Hanegbi was frank about the political challenges facing Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, which he said had been in danger of collapse in June over the Western Wall deal. When he suggested more negotiations, one of the visiting officials asked him what guarantee there was that even a renegotiated deal would ever be carried out.
“Nothing,” he replied. “That’s the truth.”
Mr. Hanegbi gamely hung around long enough for Jewish Agency representatives to try their hand at the new mission of educating Israelis about the concerns of diaspora Jews. Shoshana Dweck, an executive with the Association of Reform Zionists of America, urged him to consider how demeaning it felt to be relegated to second-class citizenship.
“It was never about a seat at a lunch counter, or a seat on the bus,” she said in a scolding near-whisper.
Mr. Sharansky’s organization and its diverse membership see other threats on the near horizon, not least the bill to tighten ultra-Orthodox control over conversions to Judaism in Israel. Mr. Netanyahu delayed a vote on the conversion bill for six months, but that means it could come up for final passage in December.
All of which leaves people like Rabbi Jacobs in something of a hurry.
“We’re geared up and ready to fight a long and important battle,” he said late on Monday. “It’s a battle that’s for the soul of Israel.”