The Western Wall in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Senior members of Congress called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to reinstate the Western Wall deal that would have led to the establishment of a pluralistic and third prayer plaza at the Western Wall.
Usually, members of Congress are reluctant to criticize internal Israeli government decisions on most matters, but Eliot Engel, a democrat from New York, told The Jerusalem Post in a statement that interest from his constituency compelled him to speak out.
"I typically refrain from weighing in on internal Israeli government decisions, but the recent developments affecting Kotel prayer and conversion have deeply affected the entire Jewish community, including communities in my district," Engel said. "Certainly, the Jewish community is stronger when united rather than divided. I implore the Israeli government to reverse these decisions and engage in a dialogue with the diverse diaspora Jewish community on how to move forward."
The Israeli cabinet approved an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel, also known as the Western Wall, in January of last year– a move facilitated by Netanyahu's leadership and encouraged by America's largest Jewish organizations. But the prime minister faced internal pressure from Orthodox elements of his coalition to walk it back.
Another New York Democrat, Nita Lowey, “strongly urged” the premier on Wednesday to change course.
Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)
"As a member of Congress who has advanced the US-Israel relationship throughout my career, I strongly urge the government of Israel to reverse its decision to suspend the previously approved plan to create a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall," Lowey told the Post. "The majority of Jews around the world consider Israel their ancestral homeland, and Israel should provide an opportunity for all Jews, men and women, to have egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall."
And Jerry Nadler, also a Democrat from New York, was harshest of all, saying in a press release the decision should "disappoint everyone who extols Israel as a champion of religious freedom and a model of pluralism."
"I am deeply concerned by trends showing young American Jews' dwindling levels of support for and identification with the state of Israel, and I worry that this decision by the Israeli government will only affirm suspicions that their voices and perspectives have been deemed irrelevant," Nadler said.
All three members of Congress are Jewish, and represent some of the largest Jewish communities in the United States.