The Other Red Line

Several years from now we will look back at the tectonic event that occurred on Rosh Chodesh Chesvan 5773 and recognize it as the tipping point in the conversations on the shape, and nature, of a democratic society here in Israel. For last week, even with a decades-long history of other events and provocations, it was clear – that at least in Jerusalem – the Orthodox establishment has succeeded in having Israel’s police do their bidding. For with the arrest of Anat Hoffman – and the department’s uncivilized behavior towards her while jailed – a red line was crossed:

Anat Hoffman in her own words:

A few days ago, on Oct. 16, 2012, I was arrested at the Western Wall while conducting a prayer service in honor of Hadassah’s centennial birthday. Two hundred and fifty Hadassah women came to the wall in solidarity with our group. As we were chanting the “Shema,” a major prayer in the service, I was approached by a police office, ordered to leave the wall plaza and taken to the nearby police station. A night of humiliation and pain followed.

I was handcuffed, strip searched, laid on the bare floor. I was not allowed to call my lawyer. I was dragged on the floor with my hands cuffed and worse of all, locked in a tiny cell with a crying young Russian woman accused of prostitution, who was the target of every filthy comment male inmates could utter. Her tears and their words are the hardest memory for me to move on from.

Is this any way for a civilized society to act? Is this any way for a Jewish state to react?

And where are our leaders – both the political and the global organizational ones – on this issue? Silent.

The Jewish Agency: Silent.

The Jewish Federations of North America: Silent. (**)

The World Jewish Congress: Silent.

You can bet if this happened to a prominent Jewish professional in Moscow, or in Paris, Buenos Airies, or New York, all of these organizations (and others) would be tripping over themselves to see who could be the first out with a press release. And if they missed the first wave, then how they could show the world their position is stronger than whomever last spoke.

But it happened in Jerusalem; and so they are Silent.

The silence needs to stop.

Not only is this type of abuse beyond tolerance in a civilized world, these organizations – and all others operating in the Israel sphere – need to understand that both the original actions, and the silence from these global players may well [negatively] influence philanthropy.

*

This past June, at the meeting of the Va’ad HaPoel (the Zionist General Council) in Jerusalem, a series of resolutions were passed relating to the status of women in Israeli society and Zionist institutions. We quote from two:

  1. The Zionist General Council resolves:
    That the World Zionist Organization shall initiate and fund projects to advance the status of women and to prevent separation instigated in a coercive manner and/or separation which means the exclusion of women from the public domain.
  2. Therefore be it resolved that:
    Article 7 (b) of the WZO Constitution be amended to now read: “act according to the basic principles of justice, equality and democracy, prevent the membership of bodies or individuals that adhere to or advocate discrimination based on origin, nationality, race, gender or sexual orientation and conduct its affairs, having regard to the protection of the requirements of all members of the Federation.”

*

Noting the importance of current events and guided by these Zionist General Council resolutions, with the upcoming gatherings of two of the organizations listed above:

We call upon Natan Sharansky, as Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, to address these issues from the podium at the opening plenary of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting on Sunday morning.

We call upon the Jewish Agency’s Unity of the Jewish People Committee to submit to the Board at the closing plenary, resolutions both condemning the actions that took place last week in Jerusalem and a resolution clearly stating the position of the Jewish Agency on discrimination in Israeli society (AND what is expected from their grantees in not allowing any discrimination in their funded projects).

We call upon Jerry Silverman, as President and Chief Executive Officer of Jewish Federations of North America, to address these issues from the podium at the opening plenary of the upcoming GA in Baltimore.

And, we applaud the Zionist General Council for their leadership on these, and other, gender issues.

It’s time to take a stand so that when we look back to Rosh Chodesh Chesvan 5773 we can, at least, be gratified with the changes it ushered in to Israeli society.

This article reflects the personal views of the author, and should not be regarded as a statement of the views of eJewish Philanthropy or its funders.

** Update Oct 28: The Jewish Federations issued a statement shared with their constituent community. They have not issued any media release or spoken publicly on the issue.

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Comments

  1. The unacceptable treatment aside for a moMent – you did not indicate why you were arrested and on what charge. I think we should have this info as well. Thank you.

  2. Susie Askanase says:

    It would be great if you could use this article to create a petition to send to our U.S. Jewish agencies! (AJC, ADL, Jewish Federations, Israeli ambassador to the U.S., etc.)
    BTW, according to Anat Hoffman, ” I was arrested for disturbing the peace and endangering the public good by wearing my tallit and saying the Shema out loud. ” Anat was detained and held overnight in police custody for disturbing the peace.

  3. An historical compromise was reached in regard to the Kotel. An area was set aside for non traditional prayer by the Israeli Supreme Court . Anat Hoffman can wear a Talit, read from the Torah and conduct services.

    Why does she insist in ignoring the this compromise, and time and again come to the section of the Kotel designated for traditional prayer and provoke conflict. Its clear. It gets her and the Reform movement press, it helps fundraising and advance their cause in Israel.

    Orthodox groups have not protested or attempted to interfere in non traditional services in the area near Robinson’s Arch. They have followed the compromise, despite not agreeing with non Halachic prayer. It is Hoffman who is creating a conflict by not supporting this compromise. What would Hoffman say if the Orthodox marched into that area and set up a divider between men and woman.

    There are many issues that divide the Jewish world today. Do we need such a conflict because some have an agenda. No question the police acted to Hoffman in a harsh fashion. But this has little to do with the fact that she refuses to accept compromise when others have.

  4. A. The Robinson’s can’t hold a large number of people.
    B. The women’s section is becoming smaller and smaller by the year.
    C. The country is handing over important issues to the ultra-Orthodox, and is losing control, by doing so.
    D. The Robinson’s Arch is not open all day, all the time. The “regular” Kotel gets more money from the State, whereas groups asking to pray together are asked to PAY to enter.
    Yankel, get your head on straight.

  5. My head is on straight. A compromise was made. I understand the government actually invested sizable sums to upgrade the area. The point is simple. Since the construction of the first Temple in the 10th Century BCE, men and woman have had prayer in separate areas and according to Halacha. Even during Arab, Turkish and British rule they segregated themselves into different areas and when possible erected a divider. Despite this awesome historical precedent Orthodox groups have not interfered with liberal style prayer in Robinson Arch.

    You can use terms like the “Ultra Orthodox”, they sound ominous and denigrating (just like you telling me to get my head on straight). A broad consensus of the public and history support traditional prayer in the Kotel plaza.

    Hoffman has a clear agenda, its tumult, attention, fundraising and the broader issue of the Reform agenda in Israel. Getting arrested serves her purposes.

  6. Steven B. Nasatir says:

    The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago raised this issue with Prime Minister Netanyahu on October 21, both in person and via a letter hand delivered to his Diaspora Affairs liaison, with whom an extended discussion was subsequently had on the subject.

    During a JFNA major donor mission meeting with the Prime Minister, Midge Perlman Shafton – a past board chair of ours – queried the Prime Minister, urging him to push for legislation and other approaches to redress the status quo at the Wall.

    We take a back seat to no one in publicly supporting Israel, or in candidly sharing our views on ways Israel can improve itself and further strengthen the unity of the Jewish people.

  7. You know, 20 years ago, when Anat Hoffman was involved with neither the Reform movement or led these “Women of the Wall,” but the anti-religious Meretz party, she came to one of these demonstrations and stated frankly that “if it weren’t for the media, there would be no reason to be here.”

    She does not believe in the Jewish religion, and she does not believe in prayer. She is there only and exclusively for the sake of making a political provocation, and that is the sole reason she refuses to go to the Robinson’s Arch section like all the sincere members of the Conservative and Reform movements who wish to pray in their non-traditional style at the Wall.

    So Dan Brown, were you duped by this woman like so many American Jews, or do you share her agenda of placing liberal politics ahead of the Jewish religion and sincere prayer?

  8. Dan Brown says:

    Actually Mark, my problem is with the behavior of Israel’s police and the fact that significant leaders of our community have not condoned this outrageous behavior. I take no stand pro, or con, on Anat’s actions. The alleged treatment of Anat has no place in our society.

  9. Its quite amazing how a major Federation leader like Mr. Nasatir does not mention the most basic issue. The Israeli Supreme Court has made a compromise on the issue of the Western Wall. There are two areas, one for traditional prayer, as it has been practiced since the time of King Solomon. The second area non traditional prayer according the the Reform and Conservative.

    Understandably there were donors in Chicago, upset about the arrest of Anat Hoffman ( and no question the Police mistreated her). Still as a Jewish leader he has a responsibility to point out to his donors that a compromise was reached. The Orthodox are following it (they are not protesting at the area for liberal prayer) and the Reform and creating conflict and tension.

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