An Orthodox Jewish worshipper prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued on Wednesday to keep silent on the Western Wall and conversion bill controversies that have infuriated segments of Diaspora Jewry, not publicly addressing the issue for the fourth day in a row.
The Prime Minister’s Office offered no explanation as to why Netanyahu was quiet on an issue that threatened to strain ties between Israel and large swaths of Diaspora Jewry.
On Sunday, the government decided to freeze an agreement from January 2016, which would have created an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall administered by a committee that would include representatives from the liberal streams of Judaism, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Federations of North America and the government.
Netanyahu has yet to address the issue publicly, though he made three public appearances on Wednesday and appeared at a number of other public events since the cabinet meeting on Sunday.
One official intimately engaged with the issue proffered a number of suggestions as to Netanyahu’s silence.
The first is that the premier prefers that Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi – whom he charged along with cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman with co-responsibility for negotiating a plan for the Western Wall – take the fire on the issue.
And indeed it was Hanegbi who went before an emergency Knesset committee meeting on Tuesday to address the matter. “I still believe that it’s a good compromise,” he said of the 2016 plan. “It didn’t evaporate.
Maybe it was put on hold because of the legal issues that you’re all aware of, but it’s definitely there, waiting for the renewal of the dialogue.”
The second possible reason for Netanyahu’s silence, the official said, is that with rocks being hurled in all directions on the issue, the prime minister has nothing to gain – and much to lose politically – by entering the fray at this time.
The third reason is that he has nothing new to say on the matter.
Beyond a laconic statement on Sunday acknowledging the plan had been frozen, the only other comment from the Prime Minister’s Office on the matter was a testy statement Braverman put out on Monday saying the decision had been misinterpreted, and that Israel is not doing away with the official egalitarian prayer space at the wall.
The official said that Netanyahu should address the issue himself and not let Hanegbi, Braverman or any other officials comment on a matter that is genuinely troubling for many people.
He needs to make a principled comment, both to Israelis and the Diaspora,” the official said. “This issue relates to both.
There is one family here, there is a dispute in the family, and the head of the family needs to have his voice heard.”