Today is September 21, 2019 -
Two votes by the Israeli government had a very significant impact on American Jewry this week.
The first vote freezes the Kotel Resolution approved in January 2016. The 2016 resolution was a historic agreement negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, Jewish Federations, Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Women of the Wall, the rabbi of the Wall, and the Israeli government, which was to (1) expand and enhance the non-Orthodox prayer section of the Kotel (2) create a common entrance to all sections of the Kotel and (3) create a separate committee to govern the non-Orthodox section.
The second vote stipulates that only Jewish conversions implemented under the supervision of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate will be recognized by Israel.
Political Science is definitely not my field, and I certainly have no intention of making a political statement, either personally or on behalf of our Federation, but I do want to try to explain what these votes mean and why they have completely upended American Jewry.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Her citizens vote to determine how many of the 120 government seats each party will hold. The party receiving the most seats has the opportunity to put together a coalition with at least a 61-seat majority, and that party’s leader becomes prime minister. Netanyahu’s very fragile coalition includes ultra-Orthodox partners who insisted on these votes. Furthermore, as Reform and Conservative Jewry combined accounts for less than 10% of the Jewish population in Israel, very little of Netanyahu’s voter base is affected by these votes.
On this side of the Atlantic, these votes have been met with outrage. According to the 2013 Pew Report, ~53% of American Jewry identifies as Reform or Conservative and considers these votes to be slaps in the faces. After working on the Kotel Resolution for 4 years, coming to a compromise and then having that compromise frozen, Jewish Federations, JAFI, and our Reform and Conservative leadership have been in Israel all week making sure that members of government understand the collective outrage and our view that the Kotel is a holy site for all Jews. As newscasters like to say, “This is a developing story. We’ll get you more details as they become available.”
This has been a rough year for many American Jews vis-à-vis our democratic way of life. (Again, this is not a political statement, merely recognition that 70% of American Jews did not vote for our current U.S. president.) However, as we go into the July 4th weekend, celebrating our country’s 241 years, I think about Winston Churchill’s line, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”