We at the New Israel Fund, who have long supported religious freedom and pluralism in Israel, are outraged by the latest initiative by leaders of the ultra-Orthodox movement to clamp down on the growing strength of liberal denominations in Israel. Specifically, recent statements by ultra-Orthodox leadership, characterizing the Reform movement as the originator of “fiendish deeds” and threatening to withdraw from the governing coalition if no legislation is passed to solidify their hegemony, are directly antagonistic to freedom of conscience and the unity of the Jewish people.
We urge the Prime Minister and leaders of the secular parties not to give in to intimidation, to preserve the agreement opening the Western Wall to different modes of prayer, and to continue to build bridges to the movements that represent the vast majority of Jews outside Israel. Giving in to incitement and hysterical accusations will only further weaken the government’s role as neutral arbiter of matters relating to religion and state.
We at NIF will continue our focus on opening up the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate’s monopoly to enable diversification of services available to Israelis, especially those who identify with other streams of Judaism and those who cannot currently access religious services. We insist that Israelis must be able to live according to their beliefs and opt not to have religious authorities involved in personal status issues, life cycle events and choices about Jewish practice and worship. And we intend to continue to strengthen pluralistic voices and organizations within the Orthodox community in their struggle against extremism and in support of democratic values.