Over the past few days we have once again been reminded in the most stunning manner about the lack of regard that the Government of Israel has for Progressive, Conservative and other non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world. It has also provided a stark reminder of the continuing importance of the work of ARZA groups around the world to see Israel fulfill one of the basic commitments of her Declaration of Independence.

It appears that in order to retain his position, PM Netanyahu has done a complete about-face on his promise to provide a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, choosing to support the Ultra Orthodox move to delegitimize non-Orthodox Judaism. During the same short period of time a new Conversion Law (previously thrown out as discriminatory and anti-democratic) is to be introduced to the Knesset. If successful this legislation will give even more power to the already-corrupt Orthodox Rabbinate with regard to the conversion process.

While it is true that most Israelis don’t really see an egalitarian prayer space as a key priority, many do resent the control that the Rabbinate has over key aspects of their lives, including conversion, marriage and burial.The Prime Minister has, in supporting these two decisions, created a massive divide between Israel and Diaspora Jews and has also widened the divide in Israel between secular and ultra religious Jews.

Our friends and colleagues in Israel and other places have not accepted these moves quietly. Through the work of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) the Government will now have to explain to the Supreme Court why they have reneged on their previous commitment to create the Prayer Space. In America numerous groups are trying to exert pressure on preventing this legislation moving forward. [For the response from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs go to: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.797366]

With regard to the Conversion Law, the IMPJ has also been at the forefront of a coalition that includes moderate Orthodox groups alongside Reform and Conservative Jews and many Jewish organisations. This was summed up by the head of the IMPJ, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, “World Jewry and the vast majority of Israeli public are not willing to give the Haredi establishment the authority to decide who is Jewish. Just as in the past, here too, a wide Jewish front will stand against this anti-Zionist bill and we will do everything in our power to prevent this dangerous bill from becoming law.”

While these moves are disappointing and frustrating we should be guided by the response of Rabbi Dick Hirsh, the person who established Jerusalem as the permanent home of Progressive Judaism, “I learned way back in the 1960’s in the American civil rights movement that the advocates of justice cannot always pick the issue. To the contrary–the issues pick us.” Rabbi Hirsh concluded, “So now, after today’s decision by the government, the issue has picked us. We have to renew our efforts in behalf of the original agreement in greater force than ever before. If we accept today’s decision passively it will impact deleteriously on all other issues we confront in the State of Israel such as Who is a Jew (on the agenda again) status of non-Orthodox movements, pluralistic rights, women’s rights, etc. It is a long struggle, but eventually, the good will win.”

Every Progressive Jew, including us in Australia, is a part of this struggle. ARZA will be working within the Zionist Federation of Australia to gain the support of the entire Zionist community in opposing these retrograde steps. We will also continue to work in partnership with our friends in Israel and around the world to make Israel build on the miracles of the past 6 decades and to fulfill the commitment of Israel to be an inclusive “home for all Jews”.

Steve Denenberg
ARZA Australia