Jewish U.S. senators urge Netanyahu to protect pluralism in Israel

Haredi Jews try to prevent a group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis and Women of the Wall members from bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall compound during a protest march in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Haredi Jews try to prevent a group of American Conservative and Reform rabbis and Women of the Wall members from bringing Torah scrolls into the Western Wall compound during a protest march in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

(JTA) – Bernie Sanders is among seven Jewish U.S. senators who sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to implement an agreement to expand an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall.

Netanyahu’s cabinet put a hold in June on the deal passed in 2016, drawing the ire of North American Jewish leaders.

In the letter sent Monday to Netanyahu, the senators also implored the prime minister not to allow a bill to pass that would consolidate power over conversions performed in Israel under the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

It is rare for U.S. lawmakers to comment on internal Israeli politics.

“As United States senators and as Jews proud of the historic and powerful bond between our two nations, we write to express our deep concern about recent Israeli government decisions that continue to reject the equality of Judaism’s non-Orthodox movements,” the lawmakers wrote.

All the signatories are Democrats except for Sanders, a Vermont Independent who ran as a Democratic presidential candidate last year. They are Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon; Dianne Feinstein of California; Al Franken of Minnesota; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Benjamin Cardin of Maryland; and Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

The senators praised Netanyahu’s decision to put the conversion bill on hold and urged him to respond to a request by the Israeli Supreme Court to uphold the Western Wall compromise deal. They said not protecting pluralism threatened the relationship between Israel and American Jews.

“We fear actions like the conversion bill and the suspension of the Kotel agreement will strain the unique relationship between our two nations, particularly if the majority of American Jews see the movements to which they are committed denied equal rights in Israel,” the letter read.

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