Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Leaders of the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel declared on Wednesday that they would not accept any changes to the agreement approved by the government in January to create a state-recognized pluralist prayer area at the Western Wall.
The comments come in reaction to remarks made by senior United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni Tuesday night, who said that his party would not agree to the creation of a single, shared entrance for Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish visitors to their respective prayer sections at the site.
Gafni implied, however, that without a shared entrance, the haredi party might be willing to accept the deal reached for the egalitarian section.
“There will not be any movement from the agreement which we signed.... If someone thinks he can push us outside the fence, he is greatly mistaken,” said Masorti Movement executive-director Yizhar Hess on Wednesday.
“The compromises ended when the negotiations were signed,” he continued, adding that the haredi leadership was fully aware of the details of the agreement before it was approved by the government.
“The cabinet secretary has our letter and the letter of the Rabbi of the Western Wall [Shmuel Rabinowitz] in the name of all the haredi leadership who he represented in the negotiations, where there is explicit agreement from both sides to the [proposed] plan.”
Hess added that the non-Orthodox denominations “trust that the prime minister will stand by his public commitments – one Western Wall for one people.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said equally that they did not intend to renegotiate the agreement approved in January, especially the requirement to have one entrance to the entire site.
“The Western Wall agreement was reached after three years of negotiations and was approved by a government order, and we expect the government to implement it completely,” said Kariv.
“We will not agree to compromise on the principle of having one national site with two prayer areas, and we will not allow a situation in which we would be required to enter by a side or back entrance. If the haredi community isn’t able to show respect and tolerance for other communities, then it is the one that needs to withdraw. Gafni’s comments aren’t hinting at a compromise but rather [are] an attempt to perpetuate the current situation at the Western Wall and to bring about the collapse of the historic agreement.”
A spokeswoman for the Women of the Wall also said the organization rejects the idea of reopening the agreement for negotiation, saying that it already represented a compromise on their part and that doing so would lead to the unraveling of the entire deal.
Gafni declared on Tuesday that his party would accept the plan for a non-Orthodox prayer area at the Western Wall only if there is no common entrance for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox visitors.
“They can go wherever they want, they can do whatever they want, but not together with us,” he said.
“We will not allow them to be with us in any way. Not at the entrance to the Kotel, not at the exit. We won’t allow in any way recognition of the Reform, and not those similar to them.”
He said that UTJ’s position is based on the rulings of senior rabbinical leaders of the haredi world, but added that he would also do everything he could to prevent nonreligious Israelis from going to the egalitarian section.
“I will make every effort so that secular people don’t go there. Israelis aren’t Reform. Either they’re religious or secular.”