PM committed to ‘finding a solution’ to Kotel prayer despite ‘difficulties’

This renewed commitment on behalf of the prime minister comes despite intense efforts by the haredi political leadership to annul several critical aspects of the agreement reached earlier this year.

June 1, 2016 20:23
2 minute read.
Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot

Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains committed to the original plan for creating a pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall, leaders of the progressive Jewish movements said Wednesday.

The Prime Minister’s Office said later merely that evening that Netanyahu “remains committed to finding a solution for prayer arrangements at the Kotel, and made clear to the heads of the [Reform and Conservative] movements the great difficulties in implementing the government decision and that he is working on the issue.”

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The leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements as well as the Women of the Wall organization said they felt “frustration” and “disappointment” at the stalled implementation of the deal.

Their comments come following a meeting held Wednesday afternoon between Netanyahu and rabbis Rick Jacobs (Reform), Steve Wernick (Conservative) and Julie Schonfeld (Conservative), along with Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America Jerry Silverman, and leaders of the progressive Jewish denominations in Israel.

In March, Netanyahu asked cabinet secretary David Sharan to come up with bridging proposals within 60 days, following extreme opposition to the plan by the haredi political leadership.

According to the executive director and CEO of the Masorti Movement (Conservative Judaism in Israel), Yizhar Hess, who attended Wednesday’s sit-down, the meeting was positive and “serious,” and said that the prime minister is still committed to the plan approved by the government in January.

“I have no doubt that the prime minister, who believes in the [original] compromise plan for the Western Wall, who well understands that the State of Israel cannot allow for a rift with Diaspora Jewry, knows how to bring the crisis to an end,” said Hess.

Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in the US, said that during the meeting the prime minister “committed to the principles of the agreement,” but said that “the expectation is that the government honors the agreement.”

Details of any possible changes to the plan were not discussed with the prime minister, although Netanyahu did say that he was not reopening the agreement for renegotiation and had no intention of starting from scratch, as the haredi parties have demanded.

According to the leaders in the meeting, the prime minister’s team said they hoped progress could be made in the coming weeks.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform movement in Israel, who was also present, welcomed Netanyahu’s stance, but said further delays to implementation would lead to demands to simply partition the main Western Wall prayer area into three sections, male, female and a third section for the progressive Jewish movements.

“We praise Prime Minister Netanyahu, who repeated his commitment to the plan, but as was made clear in the meeting, our expectation is that there will be progress in the coming weeks,” Kariv said.

This renewed commitment by the prime minister comes despite intense efforts by the haredi political leadership to annul several critical aspects of the agreement reached earlier this year.

“In a statement to the press after the meeting, Women of the Wall called on Netanyahu “to stand up to the ultra-Orthodox attempts to derail the plan, [and] not to give in to the bullying and pressure of the haredi lawmakers who wish to exclude women and non-Orthodox Jews from Jewish life in Israel.”

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