Haredim Are Defeated
OpinionKotel Decision Causes Israel-Diaspora Rift

Haredim Are Defeated

Zionism as we understand it, includes democratic values, not the views of a single group.

Rabbi David Geffen

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

On Friday, June 30, six days after Benjamin Netanyahu caved in to Haredim, The Jerusalem Post ran a six-column headline at the top of the first page: “A people divided: Israel-Diaspora rift widens.”

The Post had been working harder than the English-language version of Haaretz to underline the basic problem in this clash, a real rift. When that edition of the paper and headline appeared, the Post editor did not know that the prime minister had already decided the Haredim would not rule over him.

His Cabinet, including the Haredi members, met that Friday morning, and Netanyahu presented a document for approval: the conversion law unchanged and six more months to discuss the status of the Kotel.

Approval came quickly, but the Haredim, after one negative comment, stormed out. You should have seen their faces on TV as they left the meeting to get into their chauffeured cars.

On Saturday night, July 1, even though the decision had been announced, 2,000 people gathered outside Netanyahu’s residence to continue the protests. The organizers were the Masorti (Conservative) movement, the Reform movement and the Women of the Wall. They wanted to make sure the PM knew that he could not back down on the Kotel and conversion issues, as he had a week earlier.

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, the director of the Israeli branch of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative rabbis group, made clear what was involved. “We have spent almost 70 years building the state of Israel, and the next 70 years has to ensure that we endow it with Zionism as we understand it, and that includes democratic values, not the views of a single group.”

Let me review the steps leading to Netanyahu’s action.

The first, a personal blow to Netanyahu, was the cancellation by the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency of a dinner with the PM at the Knesset. The clash was under way, but the PM did not realize how far it would go.

The next day, Tuesday, June 27, the Board of Governors had arranged a meeting at the Knesset with lawmakers who wanted to see a change made. Twenty Knesset members attended, but something else occurred in that building.

Members of the Board of Governors know Knesset members personally. Almost 30 governors met eye to eye with Knesset members in their offices. Lobbying was heavy and another step in the process.

Next, AIPAC announced that its leaders were flying in for a meeting with Netanyahu. I’m not sure how many came, but this was a high-level delegation. They put it on the line with him: You are destroying the Israeli-U.S. Jewry bond.

The prime minister told them, “It was either the Kotel or my government.” They laughed because they knew he had exaggerated the situation and what might happen to him.

The Haredim will not pull out of the government and force elections because a percentage of their own party members would not vote for them. No one wants elections now; Israel is rolling along too well.

Then came the news that Federations were reconsidering the amount of money they would send to Israel. For Netanyahu, that was scary.

Then President Donald Trump announced that he wanted “a resolution to a growing crisis over the status of prayer at the Western Wall.”

Federations also were livid that Netanyahu had the Foreign Ministry send emissaries a directive to blame American Jews for the crisis. He denied vociferously that such an order was sent, but such documents from Jerusalem were viewed in various embassies and consulates.

There were other steps and other people involved, clearly more American Jews than Israelis, but in my mind the final blow fell when Sheldon Adelson and his wife arrived in Israel in their private plane. They came to testify in the ongoing investigation of Netanyahu and for the dedication of the medical school at Ariel University. He gave at least $1 billion toward its construction.

Netanyahu was one of the speakers. Because the PM has benefited from millions of dollars from Adelson, I am sure he told Netanyahu that he better get his act together. Less than 48 hours later, the two decisions the Cabinet made Sunday, June 25, were overturned.

On the way to the Fourth of July, the spirit of Jewish patriotism was shown in the United States and Israel.


Former Atlantan David Geffen, a Conservative rabbi, lives in Jerusalem.

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