Netanyahu calls for calm after Tel Aviv Yom Kippur clash

Secular and religious Israelis clashed in Dizengoff Square after activists attempted to segregate worship


Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) arrives with Minister of Construction and Housing Yitzchak Goldknopf to attend the weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem on September 27, 2023. (Photo by ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed for calm and urged leaders to lower tensions following a tussle between secular and orthodox Israelis over segregated prayer in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur.

The remarks, which were issued Tuesday night, were seen as a veiled swipe against National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who announced that he was planning to hold a prayer session at the site on Thursday in protest over the unprecedented holiday fracas, which has been widely condemned by lawmakers across the political spectrum.  

“After what happened in Tel Aviv, the most important thing is to lower the flames,” Netanyahu said in a statement released by his ruling Likud Party. “Therefore, I expect all leaders to act responsibly.”

On Yom Kippur, activists from Rosh Yehudi, an orthodox organization strung up a makeshift segregation barrier made up of Israeli flags at the public prayers in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff square, in contravention of a court ruling prohibiting gender segregation in public.

The gender-separate event—which was launched during the coronavirus epidemic, when indoor gatherings were deemed unsafe—had drawn hundreds of participants in years past.

They included a typical Israeli mix of secular, traditional and Modern Orthodox worshippers, many of whom felt more comfortable in an outdoor setting than in the confines of a synagogue, with no dress code enforced and a mix of the informal and the formal on display.

Ben-Gvir, who is charged with oversight of the police, had vowed to hold public evening prayers in Tel Aviv square on Thursday, setting the stage for a possible showdown if the participants are segregated, in defiance of a High Court order banning such segregation.

“I say to those anarchists that tried to eject worshipers on Yom Kippur—I and my friends...are coming on Thursday to the same spot. Let’s see you try and eject us,” tweeted Ben-Gvir on Tuesday.

Ben-Gvir's plan was condemned by both right- and left-wing lawmakers.

Simcha Rothman, a lawmaker from the Religious Zionism Party and one of the top stewards of the government’s judicial reform, called Ben-Gvir’s actions “unwanted.”

The “response to the extremist, vociferous progressive minority that does not want a Jewish state here is not through a counter-provocation that would further inflame hatred,” tweeted Rothman.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said Ben-Gvir was “playing into the hands” of those who oppose the judicial reform, adding that “this is no time for unnecessary provocations,” Channel 12 news reported.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on the public to ignore Ben-Gvir’s prayer rally.

“I urge everyone to ignore Ben-Gvir’s ‘prayer’ on Thursday at the Square. Leave him alone there. There’s no greater punishment for him,” Lapid wrote on Facebook.

On Monday, Lapid decried the “messianic” Judaism of the nationalist groups that “decided to bring war” to the Tel Aviv square.

“The Orthodox ultra-nationalist nucleus that came to the neighborhood decided to bring the war to us as well."

“They make sure to explain to us that there is only one version of Judaism, their version. They demand that in the name of tolerance, even in our neighborhood, they will decide what is allowed and what is not allowed,” Lapid said.

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