JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Thursday found hate graffiti against liberal streams of Judaism scrawled on the walls of a synagogue affiliated with the Reform movement, as well as death threats addressed to some of the movement's leaders and a knife.
Photographs in the Haaretz newspaper showed envelopes with names of leaders, including the president of America's Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and Anat Hoffman, the chair of a group fighting for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said an investigation is underway.
The incident highlighted tensions between the liberal Reform and Conservative Jewish movements and the Orthodox establishment in Israel, which has a monopoly over Jewish rituals such as marriage, burials and conversions. While the liberal streams are dominant among U.S. Jewry, they are marginal in Israel and have struggled to make inroads there.
A statement from Jacobs called the vandalism "reprehensible." He called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to improve the standing of Reform Jews in Israel.
"There must be a recognition that today's deplorable acts are the all too predictable consequence of efforts to delegitimize Reform Judaism in Israel. The Prime Minister has the ability, and the responsibility, to make clear that Reform Jews are not second class citizens in Israel," he said.
In Israel, the liberal streams, which have different customs than Orthodox Judaism, such as having women ordained as rabbis, are often seen as a curiosity and in some cases, a threat. Israeli lawmakers, both secular and ultra-Orthodox, have repeatedly disparaged the Reform movement, questioning their Judaism and accusing them of promoting Jewish assimilation.
Still, the liberal streams have made small gains in Israel, and in January, the movement was jubilant over perhaps its greatest victory — Israel's announcement that it would create a special mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a site administered by Orthodox authorities.
The prayer area has yet to be erected, apparently under pressure from ultra-Orthodox members of Netanyahu's governing coalition. The delays in implementing the arrangement have strained relations between the movements and Netanyahu.
Netanyahu condemned the vandalism. "Such acts have no place in our free society," he said in a statement.