Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, has described the Netanyahu government as one that will "go down in history" as having widened the gap between Israel and the diaspora, and "deepened the current crisis" with American Jewry.
The language used by Mr Sharansky was described by the Jewish Agency’s spokesperson, Avi Mayer, as “some of the harshest I’ve ever heard him use with regard to the government of Israel.”
Speaking at the Limmud festival on Sunday night, Mr Mayer told his audience that “about an hour ago I sent out… [the] statement in the name of my boss, Natan Sharansky.”
After paraphrasing the statement, he said that: “This is something that Natan would not ordinarily say – he’s actually quite close to the Prime Minister – so this was quite exceptional to me.
“But it’s an indication to my mind of how deep this crisis has become.”
The crisis Mr Mayer was referring to was the topic of his Limmud talk – the backtracking of the Israeli government with regard to creating a proper egalitarian space for Progressive Jews at the Western Wall.
Mr Netanyahu had asked Mr Sharansky to attempt to resolve the long-running issue. His solution, presented in January 2016, would have seen a significant enlargement of the very small area currently designated as a Progressive prayer space. It would also have improved access to the Progressive area, and seen the space controlled by a committee which would have included key women’s groups in Progressive Judaism.
The solution was adopted by the government as its official policy, only to be delayed. Finally, in June of this year, a proposal to freeze this plan indefinitely was adopted by the government instead. The Jewish Agency responded by cancelling a dinner at which Mr Netanyahu was due to speak, a move which made international headlines.
Mr Sharansky’s comments came after a discussion in Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting regarding Israel’s relationship with the Jewish diaspora.
While the Jewish Agency head praised Mr Netanyahu for having launched “Taglit-Birthright Israel” (trips to Israel arranged for Jewish young adults from the diaspora) he said that it was a “terrible shame that a government that is headed by someone who has contributed so much” should be responsible for deepening this crisis.
As part of his talk, Mr Mayer brought up the example of Albert Einstein, who respectfully declined an offer to become President of Israel in 1952 – and the language he used when turning it down, where he said he “was really honoured to receive this request from our State of Israel.
“He said ‘our state’,” Mr Mayer said.
“Now this is someone who did not have a very strong Jewish identity, whose Judaism did not infuse everything he did. He was a Jew, he knew that he was a Jew. But when it came down to the sense of solidarity, he felt it very, very strongly, in his bones. And when he responded to this offer he referred to something that connected him personally.”
Mr Mayer continued by saying that “I fear that that is a sense that will be lost to future generations [of diaspora Jews] if we don’t do whatever we can to mend that gap that I think unfortunately is growing at this time.”