More Violence at the Kotel

17 November 2017

Yesterday, a group of Reform Jews went to the Kotel with Torahs as part of a day celebrating the ordination of the 100th Reform rabbi in Israel. It was an august crowd, led by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism. It should have been a happy occasion. But, as we might have learned to expect on matters relating to the standing of Reform Jews at the Kotel, things did not go smoothly.

As the group entered the site they were attacked by security guards who report to the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who has been given control of the Kotel by the Israeli government. Then, a mob of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators joined in with shoves, fists, and mace.

The background for this violence is the Israeli government’s decision to stop the implementation of a plan, initially agreed to in January 2016, to integrate a space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel and to put in place arrangements that ensure that not only the ultra-Orthodox would control what happens at the site.

We’ve seen this before. Time and again, the Israeli government has sold out the values and the needs of the majority of Jews in Israel and around the world, and ceded a stranglehold on religious and family life to the ultra-Orthodox. On the same day that the Netanyahu government withdrew from the Kotel compromise, they also voted to concentrate power over conversions to Judaism in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox.

NIF stands for religious freedom in Israel. We were among the earliest funders of Women of the Wall and of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel. And we continue to support a group of organizations that advocate for the rights of Jews who belong to these liberal streams as well as those who want to live a secular life, free of religious coercion.

NIF is also a key funder of other groups working to create equality. And, when I see how Reform Jews are treated at the Kotel, I recognize that the Israeli government is using the same tactics to go after others who disagree with their political line. If you are a Reform Jew, your status as a Jew is questioned and you become a target for violence. If you believe that settlements threaten Israel’s future, you are termed a “BDS supporter.” If you expose human rights violations in the occupied territories, Cabinet ministers will go on TV to call you a “traitor.”

There is something deeply upsetting, and profoundly undemocratic, about these tactics. They are part of what for years I referred to as Israel’s “democratic recession,” but which now might be better understood as part of the global rise of neo-authoritarianism.

These tactics are unacceptable. We won’t stand for them in America. And we won’t stand for them in Israel. We must, rather, continue to stand for the rights of all Israelis. The stakes are clear: Will Israel respect all Jews, or just the ultra-Orthodox? Will it uphold human rights and civil liberties? Will it live up to its founding principles?

It is up to us to reject these efforts to sideline Reform Jews – just as we’ve rejected their efforts to sideline women, Palestinian-Israelis, new immigrants, and everybody else who isn’t a part of their political constituency.


  1. So what happened to Rabbi Jacobs and his group? We’re they injured and hospitalized ? That is so so tragic and unacceptable. The exact opposite of Jewish values and universal values of respect for everyone and do unto others what you would want done to you.

  2. Just as earlier Zionists worked and fought for the creation of a democratic Jewish state, we must work and fight for the continuation of a democratic Jewish nation. All is lost when radical fringe Jewish extremists act for the State.

  3. When in Rome do as the Romans do. Why will not foreign Jews accept the traditions that have always been at the Kotel. RicK Jacobs is succeeding in making a division between Israel and the Jews in the Diaspora because he is otherwise irrelevant in Israel. Israel Jews accept the tradition of the Kotel. Non religious Jews don’t give a fig about what happens there as they never go to pray. Most prayer at he Kotel is private. It is only Rick Jacobs and his ilk who wish to make a fuss and deliberately instituted a violent scene. It is not that Reform and Conservatives who hardly exist in Israel are coming in their 1000’s tp pray at the Kotel. indeed ,most of the fuss is being made by those who have never been here or do not plan to come. When the Reform can elect 6 members of the Knesset perhaps then we may listen to them.

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