Progressive Jewish leaders begin procession with Torah scrolls to Western Wall entrance.
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
After an acrimonious and bitter session of the Knesset Interior Committee, its chairman, Likud MK David Amsalem, unexpectedly called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to repeal the Western Wall resolution approved by the cabinet in January.
His intervention startled the Reform and Conservative Movements as well as political advocates of religious pluralism, who have urged Netanyahu to implement the agreement despite intense haredi (ultra-Orthodox) opposition.
The resolution commits the government to creating a state-recognized pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall and took almost three years to negotiate through the mediation of then cabinet- secretary and current Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.
The failure to implement the deal, which was initially hailed as an historic milestone, has led to strong criticism of the government by leaders of North American Jewry and the heads of the progressive Jewish denominations.
Amsalem said during the hearing that repealing the resolution would “reduce the flames” surrounding the issue, adding that “if American Jews are offended, it’s OK.”
The hearing followed a tour of the Western Wall complex by the committee members on Tuesday morning and witnessed rancorous shouting matches between the various committee members, including Amsalem himself.
The committee members for the most part divided along coalition and opposition lines in their attitude toward the resolution, with MKs from Yesh Atid, Zionist Union and Meretz roundly denouncing Amsalem for his attitude, while Likud, United Torah Judaism and Shas MKs were adamant in their opposition to it.
MK Benny Begin of Likud, however, said he believes the compromise solution that resulted in the government resolution is the best solution that could be found in the near future.
He also pointed out that haredi parties had not sought to block the resolution from a vote in the cabinet and only after it was passed did they begin to vocally object.
“It was accepted for a short while and afterward argument erupted again. There is no escaping the implementation of this plan, although perhaps with a slight improvement,” said Begin.
Shas MK Yoav Ben Tzur described the efforts to obtain a state-recognized pluralist prayer space at the Western Wall as “a provocation,” adding that “no-one can uproot [Jewish] tradition and not injure the feelings of [Orthodox] worshipers.”
UTJ MK Yaakov Asher said that no-one was ever stopped from praying individually at the Western Wall as they saw fit, while Likud MK Oren Hazan said that “adjusting Judaism to the modern world is the beginning of the end.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg argued that there was more than one way to be a Jew, and criticized what she described as “the state monopoly of a narrow stream in Judaism,” while MK Nachman Shai pointed out it the government had passed the resolution and that it was the government that got cold feet on the deal.
Director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess said that Amsalem’s statement was irresponsible in the extreme and would do “strategic damage” to the State of Israel.
“The blatant disregard of millions of Jews not only deprives hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens of their rights but also undermines Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” said Hess. Does MK Amsalem want world Jewry to stop supporting Israel, and to stop defending it as the Jewish state?” Meanwhile, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky rebuked Interior Minister Arye Deri for disparaging progressive Judaism in a response he gave in a question and answer session on Monday.
“I may not be as pious as the Minister of the Interior, but I observe Shabbat and attend an Orthodox synagogue,” Sharansky said during a special session of the Knesset Committee on Aliya, Absorption, and Diaspora affairs.
“And I say clearly that I will not give up on a single Jew or a single immigrant. I say to all Jews – without distinction – that I want them and their prayers and their rabbis here in Israel. There is room for all of us here, and we must tell all Jews who support us abroad and all who wish to immigrate to Israel that they are wanted and accepted among us.”