Middle East

Jewish leaders rethink ties with Netanyahu, Israeli government

The Jewish Agency, the world's largest Jewish nonprofit group, will reevaluate its relationship with the Israeli government after two decisions that have sparked outrage in the Jewish world, according to the organization's new chairman of the board of governors.

"Support for Israel doesn't necessarily mean support for the Israeli government," the new chairman, Michael Siegal, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The rare and stunning statement followed a cabinet vote on Sunday to suspend its plan to create a new and permanent place for egalitarian prayers at the Western Wall. A ministerial committee also voted to move forward on a bill that would deny any recognition of conversions performed by other than the state-sanctioned Orthodox Rabbinate system.

Both decisions were in response to pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis strictly govern Jewish practices in Israel such as weddings, divorces and burials. The ultra-Orthodox religious establishment sees itself as responsible for maintaining traditions through centuries of persecution and assimilation, and it resists any inroads from liberals it often considers to be second-class Jews overly inclusive toward converts and interfaith marriages.

ISRAEL FREEZES WESTERN WALL MIXED-PRAYER PLAN

Despite some inroads, the liberal pushes have encountered a wall of ultra-Orthodox resistance when it comes to breaking their monopoly on religious practices.

On Monday morning, the heads of the Reform movement in the U.S. and in Israel decided to cancel their Thursday meeting with Netanyahu in protest of the government's decision.

The board of governors of The Jewish Agency, a nonprofit that works closely with the Israeli government to serve Jewish communities worldwide, said it was calling off its dinner with Netanyahu and altering the agenda of its annual meetings to address the crisis.

ISRAEL STRIKES TARGETS IN SYRIA FOR 2ND DAY

In a statement, the agency's board warned the government’s decision would deeply divide Jewish people around the world, and declared they would not allow it to happen.

"We made a mistake. We believed the government, we believed the prime minister, we believed that we needed at last to end this squabbling among ourselves over the Western Wall, and we agreed to a compromise arrangement," Yizhar Hess, head of the Conservative movement in Israel, wrote in the Israeli Newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

"But the Cabinet's decision last night -- a cynical, even wicked decision -- took this historic agreement and threw it in the faces of millions of Jews around the world," Hess added.