Jewish Agency, Reform movement cancel meetings with Netanyahu following Western Wall decision

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Jewish Agency’s board of governors canceled a scheduled dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Israeli government decided to freeze a plan to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

Also Monday, the heads of the Reform movement in the United States and Israel said they would cancel a meeting with the prime minister scheduled for Thursday in the wake of the decision. The meeting had been arranged several weeks ago.

The Jewish Agency announced the cancellation on Monday, the day of the dinner. The statement also said the group would change its entire agenda for the remaining two days of its meetings in Jerusalem “in order to address the ramifications of these decisions.”

A Knesset ceremony Monday to kick off the board of governors meeting also was canceled.

The Jewish Agency also announced that it had unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Israeli government to reverse its decision to suspend the deal and a separate decision to advance a bill that would only recognize conversions completed under the auspices of the haredi Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

The resolution said the proposed conversion bill “has the devastating potential to permanently exclude hundreds of thousands of Israelis from being a part of the Jewish people.” It also said the board “deplores” the decision to freeze the Western Wall agreement intended to “establish the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world, as stated: ‘One Wall for One People.’”

“The Government of Israel’s decisions have a deep potential to divide the Jewish people and to undermine the Zionist vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and Jabotinsky to establish Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people,” the resolution also said.

The Jewish Agency’s newly installed board of governors chairman, Michael Siegal, told Haaretz on Monday that his agency would re-evaluate its relationship with the Israeli government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, explained in a statement that his movement had been “deeply encouraged” 18 months ago when Netanyahu and his Cabinet, over the objection of haredi Orthodox parties, had passed an agreement that was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government.

Jacobs said Netanyahu rescinded the agreement without discussion with North American leaders.

“The decision cannot be seen as anything other than a betrayal, and I see no point to a meeting at this time,” Jacobs said. “After yesterday’s shameful decisions, we feel that at this moment, after more than four years of negotiations, it is not clear that the current Israeli government honors its agreements.”

The agreement would have doubled to nearly 10,000 square feet — half the size of the Orthodox main section just to its north — a section where men and women could pray together on the western side of the Temple Mount. A committee of non-Orthodox leaders and government officials was to manage the non-Orthodox section, and a single entrance was to lead to both sections.

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