Sunday, May 27, 2012

Conservative Jewish tourists complain about discrimination by hotels in Israel

It seems that some Jewish guests are more equal than others in Israeli hotels, at least according to Conservative Jews. As reported by Ynet News, May 21, 2012:

A new resolution was passed by the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, at its National Convention in Atlanta earlier this month that calls upon Israeli hotels to treat all denominations of Judaism equally.

Over the past year, there has been an increasing number of cases when Conservative Jewish groups have wished to pray in Israeli hotels and have been denied the use of hotel-owned Torah scrolls if the service was not in accordance with Orthodox practice.

In some cases the hotels have offered to locate a Torah scroll from outside the hotel at an additional fee to the guests. In other cases, it became necessary for guests to make arrangements on their own.

As part of the resolution, the Rabbinical Assembly calls upon the Israeli Hotel Association and all Israeli hotels to treat Jews of all denominations equally and to afford Jews and all groups of non-Orthodox streams any of the rights and privileges afforded Orthodox guests.

In addition to that, the RA calls upon Conservative Jewish groups to patronize hotels that follow this policy and urge other arms of the movement and other denominations to adopt a similar policy to effect change.

The Assembly will also notify the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the Israeli Hotel Association and Israel tour group operators of the newly-adopted policy.

The resolution states: "The Rabbinical Assembly call upon the Israeli Hotel Association and all Israeli hotels to treat Jews of all denominations equally and to afford Jews and all groups of non-Orthodox streams any of the rights and privileges afforded Orthodox guests including the use of a synagogue and a Sefer Torah."

It goes on to note: "The Rabbinical Assembly call upon all Masorti/Conservative groups to patronize hotels that follow this policy."

Since its founding in 1901, the Assembly has been the creative force shaping the ideology, programs, and practices of the Conservative movement, and is committed to building and strengthening the totality of Jewish life.

There are more than 1,250,000 members of the Conservative movement, consisting of 1600 rabbis and 850 congregations worldwide, most of which reside in the United States.

"Conservative rabbis bring Jews to Israel from around the world to celebrate Judaism and support the State of Israel," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

"Israeli hotels should be seeking ways to support the Jews who do so much for the Jewish country we love rather than preventing our worship and study."
More liberal Jewish organizations have also complained about their treatment by Israeli hotels, as reported by Kobi Nahshoni of Ynet News, April 11, 2012:

Representatives of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements in Israel have complained to the tourism minister and the minister of public diplomacy and diaspora affairs against Israel's hotels, which they claim are systematically discriminating against tourist groups from abroad by not allowing them to hold prayer services according to their customs.

In a letter sent by Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and Yizhar Hess, the executive director and CEO of the Masorti Movement to ministers Stas Misezhnikov and Yuli Edelstein, they claim that many hotels refuse to allocate a room for prayer services or a Torah scroll for reform or conservative guests, in contrast to the trivial manner in which the service is offered to Orthodox guests.

"The attitude is insulting and humiliating, "Kariv and Hess stated in the letter. "The majority of the Jewish nation is not Orthodox, rather it is reform or conservative…and here, they come to a hotel in Israel to find that their Judaism, the one which led them to visit Israel and love it – is treated with contempt and worthy only of concealment."

The two noted that some of the hotels argue that the reason for the discrimination stems from concerns over the possibility that their kosher certification would be revoked. "If in fact kashruth supervisors in hotels or the local rabbinates are in fact doing so it is a blatant deviation from authority that has no legal basis," the noted.

The two movements summed up their plea to the ministers: "We ask that you find the proper public manner in which to make it clear that this is an invalid policy that is not compatible with the law, a policy that damages relations with Jews in the Diaspora and the image of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state."

Executive Director and CEO of the Masorti Movement Yizhar Hess said: "There is no connection between the rules of kashruth and their enforcement in the kitchen and the activities in other departments of the hotel. Soon the kashruth supervisor will ask to make sure that none of the guests is watching TV on Shabbat …if it wasn't so sad it would be funny.

"The kashruth monopoly gives the supervisors a great deal of power. If he wishes to, the supervisor can remove the kashruth certificate and leave the hotel owners at a loss. It's extortion, maybe even extortion and intimidation. Apparently, kashruth supervisors are the real hotel managers in Israel."

Hess protested against what he termed the scornful, arrogant and condescending treatment towards groups of non-Orthodox tourists and claimed that it was absurd that the Jewish State was the only place in the western world where there was no freedom of religion for Jews.

The kashruth division at the Chief Rabbinate stated in response that there was no directive stipulating the kashruth certificate would only be given if reform and conservative Jews were excluded. It added that it was possible that these are specific cases connected to local rabbinates and their customs.

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