Jun 30, 2017

Update from Israel on Kotel and Conversion

Dear Colleagues:

Before Shabbat and the holiday weekend, I want to update you on important developments here in Israel regarding the conversion legislation and the implementation of the 2016 resolution to establish a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (Western Wall).

Over the last week, North American Federation leaders, in partnership with Natan Sharansky and The Jewish Agency for Israel, have held meetings with dozens of Israel officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of Knesset, and Israeli ministers. We have also worked closely with religious movements and many Israel-based organizations.

The prime minister and government leaders listened intently and understood our concerns that these developments represent an existential threat to Diaspora Jewry. And all of the efforts put forth — raising the issue to local Israeli consuls general, writing letters and emails to influencers, and speaking out to the media — have made an enormous impact.

The Conversion Bill

The Government of Israel has agreed not to move the controversial conversion legislation forward for six months. The Reform movement has agreed to freeze their Supreme Court petition on the matter for six months (assuming the court will agree), and the prime minister will set up a committee with all parties, to be charged with discussing the issues and challenges and delivering a resolution.

We still have a lot of work to do. There are still differences. But we are hopeful that we will be able to come to a solution so that we do not have to face this again. You can read more about it in the Times of Israel.

The Kotel

Unfortunately, last Sunday the Government of Israel’s Cabinet decision to freeze the January 2016 agreement to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel remains in place. However, our efforts — together with The Jewish Agency, the Reform movement, the Conservative movement, and Women of the Wall — will remain bold and strong.

The Government of Israel has clearly communicated its intention to immediately move forward with building the prayer plaza; however, the site governance and entry area parts of the agreement remain on hold. Looking ahead, our efforts will be focused on supporting all three areas of work and, hopefully, bringing all parties to the table to move forward together.

Next Steps

We believe that the promise of the Kotel — “One Wall for One Jewish People” — must be implemented. We will not sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. We will remain vocal in our pursuit of having this promise fulfilled. We are working on a grassroots campaign that engages our community to maintain momentum, and we will encourage Israelis — who are also impacted by these decisions — to join us in this effort. In the coming days, we will be presenting campaign options for your consideration.

I also want to acknowledge the many Federation lay and professional leaders who have been in Israel during this intense week and participated in these efforts, as well as those who have advised from afar. Our engagement in these discussions represents our Movement at its best. Additionally, we applaud the leadership of The Jewish Agency — including Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky, Secretary-General Josh Schwarcz, and Chairman of the Board of Governors Michael Siegal — for their bold decision to reset the agenda of their entire three-day board meeting and focus on the crisis that erupted in response to the government’s actions.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Fourth of July.

Jerry Silverman
President and CEO
The Jewish Federations of North America