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June 29, 2017 11:05 am

A Different Take on the Western Wall Controversy

avatar by Stephen M. Flatow /

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The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – The headlines of the Jewish press this week were filled with stories about angry American Jews denouncing the Israeli government’s decision regarding egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

Jerry Silverman, head of the Jewish Federations of North America, called the Israeli government’s decision “a direct insult” to Diaspora Jewry, and vowed to launch a “campaign” to “fight back.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that the battle to reverse the decision was “worth fighting for.” And a statement issued by the top institutions of Conservative Judaism declared that “the rising influence of an intolerant religious establishment” — as exemplified by the Western Wall decision — was “an existential threat to [Israel’s] future.”

This week’s other headlines, however, reported about threats to Israel that are genuinely existential — not merely a rhetorical flourish.

Mortar shells fired from Syria recently struck the Golan Heights on three consecutive days. A Hamas rocket hit the Sha’ar HaNegev region of southern Israel. There are new warnings of possible attacks on Israel’s northern towns from southern Lebanon, where the Iranian proxy Hezbollah has positioned more than 100,000 missiles.

I understand that the Western Wall developments have ignited strong feelings in both camps. And I do not doubt the sincerity of those sentiments. I am not taking a position or advocating any particular proposal. I am merely asking everyone to keep a little perspective.

Jerry Silverman does not live on the Golan Heights, Rick Jacobs does not reside in Sha’ar HaNegev and the American leaders of Conservative Judaism do not live in towns along the Israel-Lebanon border.

They are talking a lot about “fighting.” I admire their passion; something that is lacking in many American Jews. But Israeli Jews who could be hit by Syrian mortars or Hamas rockets are the ones doing the real fighting — for their lives.

Worrying every day about a rocket crashing into your child’s kindergarten, or mortar fire sending your family racing to a bomb shelter, is very different from worrying about traffic on the Long Island Expressway or the difficulty of getting tickets to that hot new Broadway show.

I would have a lot more respect for Diaspora Jewish leaders if, in addition to launching a “campaign” over prayer regulations at the Western Wall, they would also launch a campaign against the international pressure on Israel to allow concrete into Gaza (where it is used to build terror tunnels). Or maybe if they launched a campaign for funds to build more bomb shelters to protect Israelis against Hezbollah missile strikes.

I am not one of those who say that the only people who have a right to express their views on Israel are those who live there. Nor am I minimizing the significance of the status of the Western Wall or the hurt feelings of some American Jews. I believe that Israel is a mature enough society to have a full and open discussion about issues such as the Western Wall controversy at the same time that it deals with national security threats.

But I also believe that Jews who live in the comfort and security of lush American suburbs should be mature enough to always keep in mind that our brothers and sisters (and, indeed, our children and grandchildren) in Israel are the ones whose fight should come first. Their lives are at stake.

So by all means, write and speak and argue about the Western Wall. But cool the rhetoric. Keep some perspective. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that your quarrels are a battle over Israel’s existence. There are genuine threats to Israel, and they have nothing to do with who prays where or when. Those Arab rockets, missiles and mortars are not aimed at one Jewish faction or another. They have all of our names on them.

Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

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  • Human Man

    Your point is well taken. The irked American Jews make a mistake. They need Israel more than Israel needs them. The veiled threats of an “existential threat” to Israel if Israelis don’t buckle to their demands for “pluralism” show just where their priorities lie. They want to get their way and think nothing of publicly besmirching Israel in order to get there.

    I have no strong religious position in this argument. Frankly, I don’t care the outcome. However — and this may not be an argument heard before — I DO NOT BELIEVE the Reform movement and increasingly the Conservative movement DESERVE to have their religious opinions considered by the Israeli government.

    I see their progressive agenda harming the Jewish state. I go to a Reform temple and there are numbers of people who dissent from the party line on Israel, but like all leftist organizations there is an attempt to silence dissent.

    These “progressives” are making a mistake if they think they will threaten their way to the WALL. Don’t think for one moment this will be the last of their demands. Next after this on their agenda will be gay marriages at the wall and after that is anyone’s guess.

    I as a Jew am offended by their arrogant attitude. They deserve zero consideration.

  • henrytobias

    The Jewish religion should be inclusive, not exclusive. I am a non-observant Jew, but still proud to be a Jew and won’t be told how I should practice my religion, or if I should practice it at all. All Jews should be given access to the Kotel.

  • SaciPerere

    And some American Jews have not been shaming Israel because it is not in the image of the East Coast?

  • SaciPerere

    American Jews who are upset and fuming at the situation with regard to the Wall did nothing, visible to Israelis, about those American Jews and organisations (JVP, etc) that walk in lock-step with anti-Israel groups, and by the side of terrorists ( Rasmea Odeh).
    At a time like this when the state needs a coherent govt., for defense, it can ill afford to pander to the opposition using any device to bring down Netanyahu’s govt.
    Israelis learned a hard lesson this century and that is no matter how imperfect Netanyahu is there is no one they can rely on to be better.

  • Paul

    Totally wrong !!!
    The issue of the wall is not about interference wioth Israel’s handling of its own internal affairs. All your argument would be correct if American jews decided to dictate who should be the next prime minister, or how much electricity should cost – Israeli enternal business.
    But these decisions touch the very essence of Jewry, affecting the very definition of who is a jew, and limiting access of the majority of Jews to Judaism’s most holy sites. these are NOT an internal Israeli affair, this concerns ALL jews everywhere. It affect their very Jewish identity and their support of the Jewish state that is supposed to represent them too. IT IS DEFINITELY THEIR BUSINESS if Israeli politicians are giving in to extremists by sacrificing all of the Jews interest for the sake of small political deals.
    We WANT their support and brotherhood. We NEED their support and brotherhood. They are our fellow Jews – even if the fanatic orthodox poliltical groups have some leverage over the current Israeli Prime Minister. These tails are wagging the dog by political blackmail. Stop defending it !!!
    If you WANT to be more reasonable and moral, why don’t you suggest a law that only people who have done Israeli military service can become members of the Knesset. We are not a Halacha state.