In unusual move, 7 Jewish senators urge Netanyahu to protect pluralism in Israel


(JTA) — Bernie Sanders is among seven Jewish 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 American Jewish leaders.

In the letter sent Monday to Netanyahu, the senators also implored the prime minister to block a bill 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, especially unrelated to national security or military affairs.

“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. Although he has discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he otherwise rarely addressed Jewish issues or his own Jewish identity on the campaign trail.

The other signatories 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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