National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir cancelled the prayer service he had planned for Thursday after being pressured to do so by his fellow coalition members.
In a statement released by the minister’s office, the claim was that Ben-Gvir had changed his mind as a result of “an announcement by the far-left protest leaders saying they wouldn’t repeat the antisemitic activity they led on Yom Kippur.”
“I’m happy the extreme Left understood that there is no place for antisemitism against Jews in the heart of Tel Aviv,” said Ben-Gvir. “We have one Jewish nation where Jews can pray in public spaces whenever and wherever they want.”
Ben-Gvir had announced the service following the events of Yom Kippur in which protesters disrupted a Kol Nidrei prayer service in Dizengoff Square as the holiday began because the congregants set up a partition to divide men and women despite the Tel Aviv Municipality and the High Court of Justice banning it.
A counter-prayer on Thursday was announced by the Kaplan Force protest organization soon after Ben-Gvir’s invitation for people to join his. The Kaplan Force’s service was set for an hour-and-a-half after Ben-Gvir’s and was supposed to take place in Dizengoff Square as well but was moved to Habima Square instead on Wednesday.
Jews pray while activists protest against gender segregation in the public space during a public prayer on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the holiest of Jewish holidays, September 25, 2023. (credit: ITAI RON/FLASH90)
“Ben-Gvir’s provocation is staying in Dizengoff,” the announcement said.
Protests groups celebrate the win
After Ben-Gvir announced that he was cancelling the service, protest groups took credit for the decision.
“What led the national danger minister to cancel his ‘prayer’ provocation in Dizengoff was the decision of the protest organizations to ignore it,” they said. “Let this be a lesson to anyone who gives a stage to the public relations tricks of an incapable pyromaniac who only wants to divide people and make them hate each other.”
The view that Ben-Gvir was creating a provocation by holding his prayer service was held throughout the coalition as well, with many urging Ben-Gvir to cancel his event or move the service to a synagogue in the area.
“I want it to be clear to everyone that Jews are allowed to pray anywhere in the world without disruptions,” said Economy Minister Nir Barkat on Wednesday morning. “The truth is that [the Yom Kippur incident] broke my heart. I see the extremists in the State of Israel pulling us to the edges and ripping the extremely important social fabric that connects us.
“We need to work toward unity and love and work on our common denominators while not allowing extremists to lead us to the crumbling of our social fabric. Therefore, I call on Ben-Gvir as well not to provoke and not to go to Dizengoff. I call on everyone to focus on what connects us and not on the edges.”
When asked if he would attend the prayer service, Innovation, Science, and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said that Ben-Gvir would do better to move it to a synagogue so as to avoid a provocation in a public space.
Pressure to cancel the service had also come from the Religious Zionist Party with whom Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party had run in the last elections. RZP leader Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Tuesday that the event would be playing into the hands of the protest and that this wasn’t the time for “unnecessary provocation.”
Some reports indicated that Ben-Gvir had been met with pushback even within his own party.
The cancellation of the event, however, was praised by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
“I’m happy that sanity won out,” he said. “In these days, there is no place for stoking the flames and hate among brothers. Tel Aviv will continue to respect the traditions and the religion alongside democratic values. The two together are an important basis for the State of Israel.”