Israel Faces Uproar Abroad as Netanyahu Yields to Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Source: The New York Times


Protesters, mainly American Jews belonging to the Reform movement, demonstrated last week outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem. He has withdrawn from a government deal to allow women and men to pray together at the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray.CreditAbir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency

JERUSALEM — The president of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group flew to Israel for an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while other Jewish leaders canceled a dinner with him. One prominent Jewish donor demanded a refund for the $1 million in Israel bonds he had just purchased.

Jews around the world have been in an uproar in the week since Mr. Netanyahu yielded to pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and suspended a plan to provide a better space for non-Orthodox men and women to worship together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

That new prayer space had long been a goal of the Reform and Conservative movements, popular in the West. And in another blow to those more liberal wings of Judaism, the government also approved a contentious bill enshrining the strictly Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel.

Together, those moves have reawakened a decades-old dispute over who is a Jew. And they have prompted an emotional debate over the nature of the relationship between the world’s Jews and the Jewish homeland — at a time when a right-wing Israeli government, under increased international criticism, has relied on support among the generally more liberal Jewish diaspora in the West.

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