Condemnation From Across our Global Movement: The World Union And Regions Respond to Netanyahu’s Comments on Reform Judaism

Progressive Rabbis Enter the Western Wall Kotel Plaza for Egalitarian Prayer as part of the World Union's CONNECTIONS conference, May 2017

On September 19, while visiting New York to speak at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced the cancellation of the Kotel deal and accused the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel of using their partnership in the Western Wall agreement as a clandestine way to gain recognition. The World Union, along with its regional affiliates, responded to his charges with the statement below:

The World Union for Progressive Judaism stands together with its regional affiliates – the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ), the World Union for Progressive Judaism Latin America (WUPJ-LA), South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ), the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and Union for Progressive Judaism in the FSU and Eastern Europe – in issuing the following response: 

The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) finds it reprehensible that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who often refers to himself as the ‘Prime Minister of the Jewish People,’ should issue a divisive and hurtful statement on the eve of Rosh HaShanah. Our aim in this time of reflection and repentance, as in every day, should be to unite the Jewish People and strengthen our connection and commitment to Israel, not to undermine it for the sake of political expediency.

Besides refusing to implement the governments’ carefully negotiated agreement to make the kotel accessible to all Jews, Netanyahu accused the movement of using the Kotel agreement as a “back door” to legitimization and recognition. On the contrary, we insist on using the front door.

We are proud to be Reform, Progressive and Liberal Jews, and proud to be a part of Klal Yisrael. We intend to have our voices heard by every Israeli consulate around the world: Our Jewishness and our right to practice Judaism as we see fit in Medinat Yisrael cannot be denied or bartered away by a government or political coalition.


Across our regions and affiliates, the following individual statements were also issued:

In North America, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), published this letter in Haaretz, “Netanyahu Refuses to Talk to Us. But We American Jews Won’t be Silenced” including the following:

You [Netanyahu] keep trying to tell us that having a second-rate, hidden, prayer space controlled by the ultra-Orthodox and ultra-hostile Rabbi of the Wall, Rabbi Rabinovitch, is good enough or the best that can be achieved. But we don’t buy it. The Jewish people deserve better. The Jewish people demand better.

From Israel, Rabbi Gilav Kariv, CEO and President of the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism (IMPJ), posted the following response on their Facebook page:

The Prime Minister’s comments demonstrated that he has decided to join the wave of ultra-Orthodox incitement against millions of Reform and Conservative Jews. Prime Minster Netanyahu has been involved in every detail of the deal, has celebrated its approval and demanded credit for it as well. The Reform Movement does not clandestinely demand recognition, but rather openly and publicly. The Prime Minister has shown a lack of leadership regarding the Western Wall, and political weakness, and in order to hide this he is choosing to attack the Reform Movement. The Prime Minster should find ways of rebuilding trust with Diaspora Jewry and not deepen the damage he and his government have already done.

Representing Progressive Judaism across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, Rabbi Fred Morgan AM Movement Rabbi, and Roger Mendelson, President, of the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) sent the following statement:

Statement of the UPJ

It is absurd for the Prime Minister of Israel to claim that the Progressive Movement is seeking  legitimacy through the back door by campaigning for egalitarian access and worship facilities at the Kotel.  We are confident in who we are and what we stand for.  The campaign for equality at the Kotel is an honest expression of our values as Progressive Jews.  Egalitarianism in prayer is a cornerstone of Progressive Judaism.   If the PM really knew us, he would understand that.

As spokespeople for the UPJ, we have over the past 18 months published a series of statements and letters in the Australian Jewish News, a very open arena within the Australian Jewish community.  These have made it clear as crystal who we are and what we stand for.  These public declarations have raised the shackles of a small group of  extremist Jews and worried them enough that they have made concerted efforts to push us out through the back door.  But, at the same time, we have seen evidence that the broader community welcomes our up-front support for the values that the majority of Jews today hold. We are heartened by the fact that our wish for religious pluralism in Israel is shared with most Jewish organizations in Australia.

We have said that, as signatories of the Jerusalem Platform, we are proudly Zionist in our outlook and actions.  We have this year raised more funds for the United Israel Appeal’s Progressive Trust than in the past several years..

We will not be intimidated by those who oppose us but will act justly to bring about social change that is consonant with our understanding of the deepest values of Jewish tradition.  And we will do these things, as we always have done, motivated by the religious goal to respond to those in distress, to treat every person with respect and to promote the well-being of all.

It seems that the Prime Minister has been viewing Progressive Judaism more as a political platform than as a spiritual force.  This is an error of judgment on his part and we trust that he will eventually come to see that our strength comes from our religious convictions.  These are firmly directed towards equal treatment for all segments of the Jewish community, wherever they sit on the religious spectrum.