MK Lapid: We cannot allow the Western Wall to be controlled by one stream of Judaism, which is also a minority within it

MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) at a meeting with senior world leaders of the Conservative Movement: "We cannot allow the Western Wall to be controlled by one stream of Judaism, which is also a minority within it".

"I am happy to be here and wish to emphasize my commitment to the equality of all the streams of Judaism in Israel. Without wishing to insult anyone, I will not say this only in English. Immediately following the fiasco of the Western Wall Compromise Agreement, I said these same words in the Knesset plenum: Israel cannot be the only country In the Western world where there is no freedom of religion.

 I am sure that all of you are concerned, as I am, from the results of several recent surveys that show a deterioration in the relationship towards Israel in many places in the Diaspora, and especially in the United States. This has occurred over a very short time period – if you look at the surveys this has happened primarily within the past two years.

This is only because of the way in which Israel has recently been involved in issues such as the Western Wall or conversion. Israel has shown a long-term inability to recognize other streams of Judaism and everyone feels that the government is being held hostage by the ultra-Orthodox parties – which are legitimate parties in themselves, but they make improper use of their political power and we are not happy about it. We are committed to this.

People ask me: “If you are so committed to this, how do you expect to form a coalition, if you win the next elections?” Part of the problem is that people feel it is natural that the ultra-Orthodox are committed to their community. Why prevents them from thinking that we are committed, too?

The simple ability of a woman to go to the Western Wall and pray in the way she wants to or for a rabbi to convert his followers in the manner that he perceives is correct –  we do not believe that we should have to discuss these issues in 2018, but we do. I think we will win in the end because most people want to be on the right side of history, unlike the surveys I have been fighting against in
the last few days. I'm happy to be here.

Q: As a woman who converted twenty years ago and married a Jew, I want you to tell me how you will make sure that my two sons will always be able to regard Israel as their home, if here they are told that they are not considered to be Jews, since their mother is a convert?

“First of all, I want to reply to that as a parent. We must tell our children that they have a choice either to learn lessons from those that are smart or those that are stupid. The person he talked to is of the second kind. It’s not a good idea to think poorly of the entire country because of one such person. We
can’t promise our children that they will encounter only good people.”

Q: What was your latest action concerning the Western Wall Compromise Agreement?

"As you know, the Western Wall Compromise Agreement was passed at the government level and then was cancelled by that same government, and it never reached the Knesset. At the time all we could do was talk about it and we did. This week we presented the Knesset with a bill that will not pass, that proposes stripping the authority from of the Rabbi of the Western Wall and transferring it to a public council, which will include representatives from all the streams of Judaism. We cannot allow the Wall to be controlled by one stream of Judaism, which is also a minority within it. The coalition will defeat the law, but I am a persistent person and after we submit it again and again and after we win the next elections – we will approve it. That was important for us to present in the Knesset, and it is more than a speech.

It was important for us to show that you have a voice that explains what it means to be a Masorti Jew and your ability to work on increasing the legitimacy of the movement within Israel. When we started, no one really knew what it meant to be Masorti in Israel. Most Jewish Israelis are Conservative without realizing it. If they knew that they were part of something bigger than them, it would help us advance our goals."

Q: What is your opinion about the assumption that Israelis hate religion because they experienced religious coercion?

"You describe the problem beautifully. How do you fight religious coercion without making it a struggle against religion? The problem is emphasized here, because for a long time people felt that Orthodox Jews are the ones who were preserving Judaism and bringing it to the rest. They gave Judaism to the ultra-Orthodox to safeguard, and sometimes would defrost it on holidays.

You can add to this a collective memory: when Yaakov Eichler enters, we do not care for each other very much on the political level, but in many ways, he looks like my grandfather, but that's misleading. My grandfather was a Rabbi in Transylvania who was educated and broad-minded and accepted people who were different from him.

This is a long journey and we are the party that represents the struggle against religious coercion the most. However, I tell everyone that I will fight those who close supermarkets on Saturdays, but I have my own Shabbat –  with the lighting of candles, and it is mine no less than theirs. The Gavison-Medan Covenant tried to bring about cooperation regarding the tension between Judaism and democracy. I do not have a good solution to the vision – I say it's about living together and people's ability to understand that not everyone can be the same.

The room that we are sitting in is full of religious people who know that religious people do not usually promote a compromise, we want everyone to be like us. It’s not easy to say that I'm a Jew, but I understand there's a variety and I do not want everyone to be like me. More than anything, the idea is that everyone should respect one another, and the ability to work together. That's my biggest struggle against the ultra-Orthodox because I think that they do not respect those who are different from them."

Q: What about the allocation of state budgets to the other streams in Judaism?

"I intend to grant funding to the streams. First, we need to win the elections, to create a government and to make everyone understand that we are not going to give up our principles, we want to form a coalition with Labor and the Likud. We will recognize all the streams of Judaism and everyone will
receive budgets under the same laws. It sounds simple – because it is simple."

Q: Regarding the Nation State Bill, it seems that this is a bill will change quite a few issues of religion and state?

"We presented three proposals for the Nation State bill, which were originally written by Benny Begin on the subject. The pretense is necessary to make it a Jewish state, even though we already have the Declaration of Independence, which is the founding document of the State. When you look at this and at the bill that says that the country is a Jewish State, it’s not a bad idea as long as you state that the State includes minority rights and the right to express Judaism in different ways.

We are discussing this in the committees and in the plenum and you, too, need to fight for these issues. This is a problem of national security and not only of Judaism – we call on the Jewish communities also concerning the nuclear issue in Iran. This is the way we deal with such issues – we do not want to lose this. This is a more convincing argument for most Israelis. On the question of the Nation State bill, we say: are we alienating all Diaspora Jewry, and if so, why? Why is it good for? We will fight this, although the basic idea behind the bill is not a bad one in my opinion."