(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shas’s proposal to criminalize non-Orthodox worship at the Western Wall will divide the Jewish people, MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) warned in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed by 30 lawmakers from the coalition and opposition.
“American Jews are angry and so is their leadership,” Shai said Thursday, calling the Shas proposal “poison.”
“There’s such a deep wound here, that if we don’t take care of it, it will only grow deeper,” he added.
Shai also proposed a bill that would anchor in law the government plan to create a pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall.
The Shas bill, proposed earlier this month, was meant to circumvent the government resolution, and would make taking part in progressive prayer services at the Western Wall carry prison sentences and hefty fines.
Shai’s letter and bill are a response to the Shas initiative, which he called “crazy.” The Zionist Union MK explained that, while he doubts his bill would pass, he hopes it will push the pluralist outline toward implementation.
The letter, signed by 30 lawmakers from Zionist Union, the Likud, Kulanu, Yesh Atid and Meretz, says that “the Western Wall bill divides the Jewish people and perpetuates the discrimination against the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel of all places.
“American Jewry has been the most secure and strong backing for US-Israel relations for many years. They enlist to help Israel all the time, on any issue.
Beyond the US, the Jewish Diaspora is unique; its ties with other communities and with Israel are close and tight and they always stand with us,” the letter reads.
“Israel was established to ensure freedom for the Jewish people, and now it is harming the basic foundations of the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“We see the government’s failure to implement the original plan as very severe,” the letter states.
The coalition has put talks about the Shas bill – and any other controversial legislation – on hold until after President- elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, but Shai said the identity of the American president will not impact the dispute over types of Jewish prayer at the Western Wall.
“This is important with or without Obama or Trump. The Western Wall is eternal and we must protect it,” Shai explained.
“The value of the Western Wall is that it is universal. It touches everyone, Jewish or not. We need to solve this in a way that does not hurt anyone... All Jews have a right to pray at the Western Wall, as do non-Jews. If a husband and wife want to pray next to each other, we should let them.”
Despite being in the opposition, Shai said Netanyahu seems to want to put the pluralist plan into action, but that his coalition partners are standing in his way.
“The outline brings everyone together,” Shai said. “It took a long time, and it came out as a joint proposal, but it’s not being implemented. The government wants it, Diaspora Jews want it, the Jewish Agency wants it, so why isn’t it being implemented? Because of the haredim.”
If Israel wants to continue to manage holy sites, then it should make them available to all, the MK added.
“Jerusalem should be the city of all faiths and be open to all religious streams,” Shai said.