Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu Expressing Disappointment Regarding Kotel Agreement

The following letter was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the negotiating team supporting implementation of the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. The signers included the Masorti Movement, Union for Reform Judaism, Women of the Wall, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, The Rabbinical Assembly, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

July 10, 2016
28 Sivan 5776

The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minster, State of Israel
Jerusalem, Israel

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Because so much has happened since we met in your office on June 1st, we feel compelled to put into writing our deep disappointment and concerns. These concerns have grown beyond the lack of real progress in implementing the government decision regarding the Kotel, and today also include the government's intention to continue with legislating the mikvaot bill and the ongoing and unprecedented incitement presented by cabinet and Knesset members towards Conservative and Reform Jews. These cumulative developments bring us to a critical juncture and are already having a serious impact on the vital relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry.

At our meeting, our negotiating team - including leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements, Women of the Wall, JFNA, and Natan Sharansky - welcomed your restated commitment to implementing the government's historic Kotel decision. Throughout our three years of negotiations, we have remained confident that you were serious about making the Kotel a place of Jewish unity and not of deep division. We look to your leadership today, as we have reached a moment that requires clarity, courage, and determination to see the plan fully implemented.

The visibility, access, funding, recognition, and oversight of the egalitarian, pluralistic prayer space in the southern plaza are all essential elements of the agreement. These were the result of years of negotiation and compromise. Since negotiations were completed, and your cabinet voted on and approved the agreement, the Haredi parties have raised new objections. Despite the fact that, as members of the government, they are collectively responsible for upholding the government's decision, they continue to threaten, incite, and demand - but to date they remain unwilling to agree to even a part of this carefully negotiated compromise, which affirms that there is a place for every Jew at the Kotel.

You tried to reassure us by saying that soon, your team at the PMO would begin implementing some of the physical aspects of the agreement, even without commitment for the entire agreement. We said then, and feel even more strongly now, that this would be a serious mistake. Such a tactic would undermine, rather than advance, our historic agreement.

In addition, we are deeply disappointed to learn the government is planning to continue with the legislation of the new law preventing Reform and Conservative Jews from using public mikvaot - and this is after the direct ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court. The ruling was made after a decade in which the Ministries of Religious Services and Justice turned down any suggestion for a pragmatic solution. We are glad such solutions are back on the table, and we are willing to discuss them for the sake ofDarchei Shalom, yet the idea that the Israeli government will legislate a law that allows public institutions to discriminate specifically against our communities is not acceptable. In Israel and in our Diaspora communities, we stand united against it.  

Finally, the growing incitement, name-calling, and delegitimization of the vast majority of world Jewry is of great concern. Just last Thursday at our t'filot at the Kotel, someone captured a video of a Haredi man ripping up a siddur belonging to Women of the Wall. That he disagrees with our worship is a given, but that he would hate so much as to destroy a sacred book containing Shem HaMalchut is outrageous. Rosh Chodesh Tammuz ushers in the period of the calendar when we prepare for Tishah B'Av, reminding us what we all know too well where sinat hinam can lead human beings - both historically and in modern events. As Prime Minister of the State of Israel, the Jewish Homeland, we urge you in the strongest terms to continue to work to forcefully and quickly stop such incitement and acts of anger.

Given the impasse at the Kotel, the pending mikvaot legislation, and the ongoing hateful rhetoric and actions of the Haredi members of the government, the Reform and Conservative Movements intend, in the very near future, to bring a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the reapportionment of the northern plaza prayer space from a men's and women's section to three sections: men, women, and mixed.

We were saddened to learn that Israel's attorney general decided to support the decision of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch to prevent prayer services in the upper plaza. This situation - of not implementing the government resolution, while at the same time preventing us from using the upper plaza for worship - is unjust and insulting. Until our historic agreement is fully implemented, or upon the Supreme Court's affirmation of our petition for a third egalitarian section to the northern plaza, we will gather regularly in the upper plaza of the Kotel, as is our right. We will address this new policy through legal means, but we will not refrain from bringing our members to the upper plaza week after week to sing, learn Torah, and assert our rights. We expect that the police will protect us as we exercise our legal rights, and we are stating plainly that absent a clear and a strong response, the current wave of incitement and violence might lead to bloodshed, as seen in the streets of Jerusalem during last year's Pride parade.

We appreciate the commitment you expressed to implementing the Kotel agreement, yet we expect you to close the gap between your statements and the actions of your government. We look forward to the day when headlines feature not hateful, demeaning stories of ultra-Orthodox intransigence but rather how PM Netanyahu courageously led the Israeli government to affirm the multiple ways Jews express their Jewish commitment at our people's holiest site. In doing so, you will have affirmed the State of Israel's respect for all world Jewry and its diversity, in the spirit of your important and strong guarantee at the GA in Washington, D.C., this past November:

"I want to guarantee one thing to each and every one of you: As Prime Minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel - Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews - all Jews."


Yizhar Hess
Masorti Movement

Anat Hoffman
Women of the Wall

Rabbi Rick Jacobs
Union for Reform Judaism

Batya Kallus
Women of the Wall

Rabbi Gilad Kariv
Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
The Rabbinical Assembly

Rabbi Steve Wernick
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism