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The Orthodox State, Syria Spillover, BDS High and Dry

Israel Suspends Plan for Egalitarian Prayer Area at Western Wall

Isabel Kershner, New York Times, June 25th 2017


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed a decision to create a space at the Western Wall where men and women can pray together and non-Orthodox rituals can be practiced. Today, mixed prayer services take place in an area known as Robinson’s Arch, a section non-Orthodox Jews deem unacceptable due to its limited accessibility [1].

The Context:

  • The proposed egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was confirmed 17 months ago after Reform and Conservative movements petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court. Non-Orthodox Jews viewed the decision as a breakthrough in promoting religious pluralism in Israel while ultra-Orthodox Jews viewed the plan as a desecration to their holiest site [2].

  • Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel believed the egalitarian space would “damage the Kotel and the Jewish status quo” while Shas leader Aryeh Deri expressed his satisfaction “when the government accepted [Shas’] demands [3].”

  • Not all members within Netanyahu’s coalition were pleased with the reversal. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman assailed the about-face as “a severe blow to the unity of the Jewish people” and, in a rare weigh-in for the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky expressed his “deep disappointment [4].”

  • In another victory for Orthodox parties, a Conversion Bill that enables the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate to retain exclusive control over all conversion matters was approved in the Knesset [5]. Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism believes that between the two incidents this week, “Israel is now only the Jewish state for some Jews [6].”

Conversation Points:

  • Is Israel the Jewish homeland if not all Jews have the right to practice according to their own understandings of Jewish practice and history?

  • Will the egalitarian prayer space’s suspension deepen the divide between Israel and North American Jewry since most are largely affiliated with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism?

  • Are religious rituals and ideologies objective or subjective?

Israel Strikes Syrian Army in Second Flare-up in Two Days

Noa Shpigel and Jack Khoury, Haaretz, June 25th 2017


Israel attacked Syrian army units in the Golan Heights after errant rocket fire spilled over into Israeli territory for the second time in a week. “As far as we are concerned, the Assad regime is responsible for what is happening in its territory and it will continue to bear the consequences if such events repeat themselves,” said Defense Minister Lieberman [7].

The Context:

  • Officially, Israel’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War is limited to responding to violence spilling over its border with Syria. Unofficially, Israeli organizations work within Syria to provide humanitarian aid and the IDF most likely conducts covert operations to stem terrorist activities affiliated with Iran and its proxies.

  • The wayward rocket fire most likely originated from Al Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, who are stationed directly across the Israeli border in Quneitra.

  • The Assad regime condemned Israel’s "aggression in support of terror groups" and warned “of grave consequences” should Israel stage further attacks [8]. The Syrian government refers to all rebel groups as terrorists [9].

  • The Syrian civil war has taken the lives of over 400,000 people since 2011 and displaced close to 10 million. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and is arguably Israel’s most strategically important area. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981.

Conversation Points:

  • Is Israel’s steadfast protection of its borders the reason why spillover violence has not worsened over the years?

  • What would the situation look like today if Israeli-Syrian peace talks had succeeded in the 90’s and the Golan Heights were back in Syrian hands?

Radiohead Withstands Pro-Palestinian Jeers at Glastonbury Festival

Ariane Mandell, Jerusalem Post, June 24th 2017


Pro-Palestinian protesters harassed rock legends Radiohead during their set at Glastonbury Music Festival. The demonstrators pressed Radiohead to cancel their July performance in Tel Aviv.

The Context:

  • Dozens of public figures, including Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Archbishop Desmond Tutu [10], have urged Radiohead to cancel their upcoming Tel Aviv concert.

  • Radiohead singer Thom Yorke assailed his critics saying “I don’t agree with the cultural ban at all” and how it is “deeply disrespectful to assume that we’re either being misinformed or that we’re so retarded we can’t make these decisions ourselves.”

  • Earlier this week, members of the UK activist group London Palestine Action protested outside the office of Radiohead's accountant, holding signs that referenced Radiohead hits including, "Don't leave Palestinians high and dry," and "Karma police, arrest this man for his crimes against solidarity."

Conversation Points:

  • Does Radiohead’s very public anti-BDS stance give cover to lower profile performers that refrain from performing in Israel out of concern for their careers?


  1. Giving in to ultra-Orthodox, Cabinet Drops Compromise on Mixed Prayer Space at Western Wall, Barak Ravid, Haaretz, June 25th 2017

  2. In about face, Israel freezes Western Wall mixed prayer plan, Aron Heller, Fox News, June 25th 2017

  3. PM appeases Haredi parties, freezing Kotel’s egalitarian area plans, Moran Azulay and Kobi Nachshoni, Ynet News, June 25th 2017

  4. In about face, Israel freezes Western Wall mixed prayer plan, Aron Heller, Fox News, June 25th 2017

  5. PM appeases Haredi parties, freezing Kotel’s egalitarian area plans, Moran Azulay and Kobi Nachshoni, Ynet News, June 25th 2017

  6. US liberal Jews decry ‘slap in the face’ from Netanyahu on Western Wall prayer, Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel, June 25th 2017

  7. Israel strikes Syrian positions after fire toward it, Washington Post, June 24th 2017

  8. After IDF retaliates for spillover, Syrian army warns Israel, Times of Israel, June 25th 2017

  9. Syrian army warns Israel of 'repercussions', Elad Benar, Israel National News, June 26th 2016

  10. Calling Out Roger Waters, Radiohead Front Man Thom Yorke Says Calls to Boycott Israel 'Offensive', Haaretz, June 2nd 2017

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