On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet made a decision to reverse an earlier decision to establish a pluralist prayer space at the Western Wall. Additionally, there was an initial approval of a bill that would give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on conversion in Israel.
President of the ZFA Dr Danny Lamm, who was in Israel for Board of Governor's meetings with The Jewish Agency for Israel, said these decisions came as a tremendous shock to all participants.
Explaining the two decisions he said that the reversal of the decision in regards to the Western Wall came after the Government had asked the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky to broker a deal that would enable this space to be made available for ALL Jews to perform services in the way that they wish.
In regards to conversion, he said this new law is set to retrospectively remove recognition of people who have converted either in Israel not through the Rabbinate or in the Diaspora by any group that is not recognised by the Rabbinate - which could be Reform, Conservative or any other private group - and to deny these people the legitimacy that they have obtained by seeking to convert.
From Jerusalem, Dr Lamm said, "this is a tremendous shock and people here feel that this is indicating a lack of interest, care and concern for Diaspora Jewry and threatens to make a division between the Diaspora and Israeli Jews."
He continued by saying that the "ZFA aligns ourselves with a resolution that is being unanimously supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel, constituted by the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayasod who all share the same view - that this is not the best future for the Jewish people. That we have come so far to make Jews and people who desire to be Jews welcome in Medinat Yisrael and to be recognised as such. It is a very severe reversal and we condemn it."
Official Statement from Dr. Danny Lamm, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia
The Zionist Federation of Australia strongly endorses the resolution which was unanimously supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel yesterday regarding the Knesset decisions on the issues of conversion and on egalitarian prayer spaces at the Kotel.
ZFA President, Dr Danny Lamm (who is currently attending the board of governors meetings at the Jewish Agency for Israel in Jerusalem) said:
"News of these decisions has reverberated through the conference and the proposed agenda has been suspended in order to deal with the issues.
As I write, I am with a delegation from the board of governors at Knesset, meeting with a broad coalition of Knesset members across the board, making representations to the government to review and rescind the decisions. The conversion decision will potentially have disastrous impact on hundreds of thousands of olim who have converted through authorities other than the Haredi Chief Rabbinate. The decision to freeze implementation of the creation of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel has alienated many diaspora and Israeli Jews, who have been eagerly anticipating its creation over the past few years - it is a decision which has the potential to create divisions rather than the unity which is the cornerstone of the Jewish Agency's mission."
Jewish Agency Board of Governors Unanimously Denounces Government Decisions on Western Wall and Conversion, Calls on Government to Reverse Course:
Jerusalem, Israel - The Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel, composed of the leaders of Jewish organizations and communities in Israel and around the world, has unanimously adopted the following resolution:
Whereas the Jewish Agency for Israel, representing world Jewry through its constituent members, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod, is gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the liberation of the Western Wall and the founding of the Zionist movement in Basel 120 years ago; and
Whereas the Jewish Agency for Israel throughout its history has been the organization responsible for bringing olim to the State of Israel and connecting Israel and world Jewry; and
Whereas the proposed conversion bill that would cement the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on conversion has the devastating potential to permanently exclude hundreds of thousands of Israelis from being a part of the Jewish people; and
Whereas we deplore yesterday’s decision by Government of Israel which contradicts the agreement reached with the Jewish Agency and other parties to establish the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world, as stated: ‘ONE WALL FOR ONE PEOPLE’; and
Whereas 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; and
Whereas we declare that we cannot and must not allow this to happen and we are committed to mobilizing our constituencies for their continued support of the people and state of Israel;
Therefore, be it resolved that
We call upon each Member of the Knesset and all elected public officials to take all necessary action to ensure that these dangerous and damaging steps are halted; and
We will continue to build a broad coalition of Israelis, together with partners from around the world, who care passionately about keeping our people united and who are committed to the unity of the Jewish people; and
We call upon the Government of Israel to understand the gravity of its steps and reverse its course of action accordingly.