Members of "Women of the Wall" pray with a Torah scroll during a monthly prayer near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City July 24, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements in Israel have reacted with fury to comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the movements were clandestinely seeking state recognition of their denominations through the now abandoned Western Wall agreement.
Netanyahu reportedly told members of the press in New York Monday night that the Reform and Conservative movements wanted to get recognition “via the backdoor, secretly, under the pretext of a technical clause of joint administration of the Western Wall,” according to Army Radio reporter Ilil Shahar.
The prime minister’s comments mirror statements made by senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office in June, when the agreement was cancelled. The officials claimed they warned progressive denominations that boasting about the state recognition inherent in the deal would endanger its implementation.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that the prime minister’s comments demonstrated that he had decided to join “the wave of haredi incitement against millions of Reform and Conservative Jews.”
Kariv also noted that Netanyahu had been involved in every detail of the deal, had celebrated the approval of the deal and demanded credit for it as well.
“The Reform movement does not clandestinely demand recognition bur rather openly and publicly,” said Kariv.
“The prime minister has shown a lack of leadership regarding the Western Wall, and political weakness, and in order to hide this he is choosing to attack the Reform movement,” adding that Netanyahu should find ways of rebuilding trust with Diaspora Jewry “and not to deepen the damage he and his government have done.”
Director of the Masorti movement in Israel Yizhar Hess said Netanyahu was “distorting reality” and pointed out that “it was this government of Israel, the prime minister and his people who proposed to us this model of agreement, including explicit emphasis on the prima facie advantages of the of the agreement regarding the issue of recognition in light of the fact that we would have official representatives on the administrative council for the site.”
“To present this now as our manipulation is a new record in fake news,” Hess added.
Netanyahu said at a briefing in New York with reporters Monday that were the issue merely one of finding an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, then the issue would have been solved.
But, he said, there was a clause – the one dealing with the administration of the site that would have included representatives of the the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as the Women of the Wall – that was interpreted as formal recognition of those movements, which caused the difficulties with the haredi parties in his coalition.
In January 2016, the cabinet approved a resolution whereby a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section would be created at the southern end of the Western Wall which would enjoy a shared entrance with the main Western Wall plaza and would be run by a committee including representatives from the Reform and Conservative movements, and the Women of the Wall, something hailed then as the first formal participation of progressive Jewish representatives in an official state body.
Although the haredi parties allowed the resolution to pass they quickly reneged on the deal when prominent rabbis, including both chief rabbis, and the haredi media opened up a withering attack on the haredi political leaders for having allowed the deal to be approved.
The plan was indefinitely suspended in June this year by a second government vote.
The High Court of Justice is now hearing a petition from the progressive Jewish denominations and Women of the Wall which demands either the implementation of the original agreement or the establishment of an egalitarian prayer area at the main Western Wall prayer site.
A decision is expected by January 2018.