Pence press conference can go ahead on upper Western Wall plaza

Source in coordinating team denies report that Kotel Rabbi barred VP from talking to the press at sacred site.

December 19, 2017 04:56
2 minute read.
Western Wall

The Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

If US Vice President Mike Pence chooses to give a press conference during his visit to the Western Wall when he visits the holy site next month, he is free to do so in the upper plaza, sources who participated in the talks ahead of the visit told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The source denied earlier reports that the administrator of the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz had completely barred Pence from conducting a press conference at the Western Wall  during his upcoming visit to the country.

According to the source, Pence would be able to hold the event in the upper plaza, but not the lower one, which is considered sacred.

According to a report on Channel 10, the US diplomatic team planning and coordinating the visit asked if Pence would be able to conduct a press conference for the press corp traveling with him from the US. Rabinowitz however deemed the request to be inappropriate, Channel 10 quoted the American diplomatic officials as saying, stating that the Western Wall is a holy place and not suitable for political or media events. The rabbi also reportedly argued that coming against the background of US President Donald Trump’s historic declaration of US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Pence holding a press conference at the site and potentially making sensitive political comments about Jerusalem could reignite tensions and riots in the capital and even on the Temple Mount.

Pence's visit has been postponed for unrelated reasons and is now scheduled to take place in the middle of January.

Although the prayer sections for men and women immediately adjacent to the Western Wall are used exclusively for prayer, the upper plaza is used for different ceremonies, including IDF induction ceremonies and a concert arena on Jerusalem Day. Recently, and controversially, a procession of 20 Ferrari sports cars were allowed entrance into the site as part of the company’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Rabinowitz, as chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and administrator of the Western Wall, has broad administrative powers at the site, and has for instance instituted various policies limiting the access and prayer rights of the Women of the Wall organization and non-Orthodox groups. Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria denounced Rabinowitz’s rejection of Pence’s request, saying that the rabbi “has become confused and thinks that the Western Wall is his back yard.”

Said Azaria “It cannot be that that the rabbi takes these decisions alone, and certainly not on issues connected to the foreign policy of the State of Israel. “If the rabbi of the Western Wall does not understand this, we will work to clarify and limit his standing in law,” the MK continued, adding that she is currently advancing a law to regulate the administration of the site, concluding that “an international incident such as this underlines the urgency of the matter.”

Bayit Yehudi MK Betzalel Smotrich wrote on Twitter that if the report was correct he would call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene and allow the press conference to go ahead.

“With all due respect to the rabbi, and I have a lot of that, he is not supposed to make decisions on these kinds of issues, and of this magnitude.”

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in response that it had been “holding discussions with the White House team, Shabak, and other elements ahead of the vice-president’s visit,” and that “the content of these closed discussions are not a matter for the media.”

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