Published On: Tue, Jul 4th, 2017

The Western Wall and the Jewish Pocket

Op-ed: American Jews' threats to withhold donations from Israel are based on the assumption that striking at the Israelis’ pocket will make them give in. The panic that has consumed PM Netanyahu and his colleagues indicate that, sadly, they are right.

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There are several aspects of the conflict between the Netanyahu government and the Jewish establishment in the United States, which are as outrageous as the conflict itself. They should be pondered before this faux pas is buried in another committee.

1. Donations: Following the government’s decision to freeze plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, we have been informed time and again that major donors to Israeli institutions and organizations are threatening to withhold donations if the decision isn’t cancelled immediaty. Every Israeli who respects his country could say to these donors: We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you have given us so far. You have the right to stop, you have the right to continue, but don’t threaten us.

General Barker, who was the commander of the British forces in the Land of Israel towards the end of the British Mandate period, ordered his soldiers to stay away from Jewish businesses. “(We) will be punishing the Jews in a way the race dislikes as much as any, by striking at their pockets and showing our contempt for them,” he wrote. While this comment won him the reputation of an anti-Semite, it was wrong—the damage to the Jewish Yishuv’s pocket did not destroy its struggle. Quite the opposite.

The donors’ threats are based on the same assumption: The Israelis won’t be able to endure a blow to their pockets; they will give in. And surely, the panic that has consumed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues following the threats from America indicates that they used an effective weapon. The current Israeli government offers plenty of ardent speeches about national pride, a national flag and applause, but its pride is diminshed when dollars are waved in its face.

Donations from America are but a jot in the national income. They are very important for the institutions that receive them, but Israeli society in general can do without them. In order to receive donations, we pretend to be miserable, in contrast to the state’s real condition. We place responsibility for the welfare of our elderly and poor on Evangelical Christians, donors of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. It’s shameful.

2. Assimilation: I learned from a column written by a journalist who became Haredi that the problem is not the Orthodox establishment’s attitude towards Reform Jews, but the assimilation among Jewish communities in the West. “We are losing the Jewish people,” she warned.

Why are we losing them? There has been no record of mass religious conversions among the Diaspora Jewry in recent generations. Jews are not converting to Christianity or to Islam. There is an issue of mixed marriages, which is a result of the fact that Jews live securely among gentiles. The establishment is trying to deal with the problem by investing in Jewish education and in the Taglit-Birthright project, which apart from being a tourist initiative, aims to serve as a matchmaking enterprise. Most non-Jews and people with a Jewish father not considered Jewish according to Jewish law want to raise their children as Jews—all the more so the Reform and Conservative Jews. The Orthodox establishment is closing the door on their faces. That’s causing us to lose the Jewish people.

3. The Western Wall: Before 1967, there were only two places in Jerusalem where one could catch a glimpse of the Kotel. One was in the demilitarized area, near East Talpiot, and the other was in the Italian hospital, opposite the new gate. It was so close yet so far away. There was a huge attraction. It faded away when we got there, a paratroopers’ company, from a different front, on the eighth day of the Six-Day War, and saw the bulldozers tearing down the Mughrabi neighborhood and turning the Kotel into a wall. As the Kotel was expanded, widened and uncovered, it lost its uniqueness. We had dreamt of a Kotel but we got a wall.

The state had trouble defining the Western Wall. Is it a national or religious site? And if it’s both, which is more powerful? The Rabbinate, and the Haredi parties that control it, entered this void. The seculars were pushed away; the Reform and Conservative Jews were humiliated. The national-religious Jews, who once saw the Kotel as the beginning of our redemption, are now looking up to the Temple Mount. They are flocking to the site in droves, despite the rabbinical ban.

Occasionally, I ask senior officials in the Reform movement why are they so interested in the Western Wall. After all, they don’t believe in trees and stones. I receive unclear answers. The truth is they are demanding access to the Kotel because it’s there. They are fighting for real estate.

The solution for the Western Wall is not creating ghettos for women and different Jewish streams, but opening it up to everyone. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, not far from there, a battle has been going on for hundreds of years over every piece of real estate. The Jewish government has been asked to decide. There may be no escape but to pass the decision on the control of the Western Wall to the Muslim Waqf.

4. Zionism: Theodore Herzl was the visionary of the state of the Jews. Netanyahu’s Israel is demanding to be recognized as a Jewish state, but it shirking its responsibility for the Jews. It’s time to go back to Herzl’s vision: To reestablish the state of the Jews.

By Ynet News

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