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Coalition and opposition politicians blame each other for Yom Kippur prayer violence

Netanyahu blames 'left-wing extremists,' Lapid accuses prime minister of adding 'to the incitement and strife'

Protestors scuffle with Orthodox Jews during a Yom Kippur gender-segregated prayer service, Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Sept. 24, 2023. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Politicians from the government coalition and the opposition each blamed the other side after Yom Kippur, the country’s highest holiday, was marred by ugly scenes of fights between worshippers and protesters in Tel Aviv on Sunday and Monday evening.

The clashes are the latest expression of the rising tensions between secular and religious Jews that many believe have been fueled by the government's judicial reform and the months-long protests against it.

The scuffles in Tel Aviv took place after the High Court upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court that allowed the municipality to prohibit setting up partitions between men and women during public prayer services in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who was involved in making the decision, stressed that he wouldn’t let the city’s secular character be changed. “In Tel Aviv, there is no place for gender segregation in the public sphere.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the events on “left-wing extremists.”

“The people of Israel wanted to unite on Yom Kippur in prayer for forgiveness and unity. To our surprise, in the Jewish nation, on the holiest Jewish day, left-wing protesters rioted against Jews as they prayed. It seems that there are no limits, no norms, and there is no exception from hatred for the left-wing extremists,” he said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, in turn, slammed the prime minister for adding “to the incitement and strife.”

“For your information, most of the people who came to protest against the coercion by the Messianists fasted and prayed on this Yom Kippur. They are not against Judaism,” Lapid said.

“A handful of violent miscreants backed by [opposition leader] Yair Lapid lit a fire and disgraced the holy day,” said Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

National Unity party Knesset Member Benny Gantz, who, according to recent polls, is the leading opposition candidate, also blamed Netanyahu for the events.

Israelis had respected each other on Yom Kippur for 75 years, Gantz stated, but “Now, whoever decided to separate us succeeded in desecrating this holy day…And who, if not the Prime Minister, the biggest generator of hatred, is the one who now chooses to light the fire.”

Few politicians did not join the blame game, instead expressing their sadness over the situation and calling for calm from both sides.

“Instead of reading articles about what happened on this day 50 years ago and how we united against those who came to destroy us, I read about wars between us in Tel Aviv. Now is the time for calm, for all of us,” said former religious services minister Matan Kahana, Knesset member for the National Unity party.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri said, “The protests on the Jewish day against the prayers of Jews in the heart of Tel Aviv are heartbreaking. Unfortunately, all the lines were crossed, and all that united us is broken. Jews against Jews in the heart of the country. We cannot be okay with this.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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