Bennett meets Reform and Conservative leaders 

MK Gilad Kariv said he hopes the meeting leads to a building proper egalitarian prayer site at the Kotel in the months ahead.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 27, 2022. (photo credit: YOAV ARI DUDKEVITCH/POOL/FLASH90)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 27, 2022.
(photo credit: YOAV ARI DUDKEVITCH/POOL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened with Reform and Conservative leaders on Monday in the first such meeting since former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew from the Western Wall agreement five years ago.

Bennett gave no concrete promise regarding the deal’s implementation apart from physical improvements to the holy site. Nevertheless, several people who participated in the meeting said it was very positive.

The meeting was supposed to last only for half an hour, but Bennett canceled his next meeting and stayed with them for an hour and a half.

Blue and White MK Alon Tal, who is a Conservative Jew, said he did not leave the meeting disappointed.

Bennett committed to ensuring the right to pray at the Western Wall without being harassed and to improving its physical infrastructure in a significant way, Tal said.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with leaders of the Reform and Conservatie movements, February 28, 2022.  (credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with leaders of the Reform and Conservatie movements, February 28, 2022. (credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
 

“He returned the prime minister of Israel to being the prime minister of the Jewish people,” he said. “I came in ready to be militant, and I was completely disarmed. He is not against us; he won me over.”

Association of Reform Zionists of America president Rabbi Josh Weinberg said he left the meeting optimistic.

“He promised to enforce the rule of law, which is no small matter,” Weinberg said. “He gets it. He understands the importance of Klal Israel [the Jewish People] and Israeli-Diaspora relations.”

The current egalitarian prayer site was initiated in 2013 by Bennett when he was the Diaspora Affairs minister, but it has since fallen into disrepair. The Western Wall agreement would have vastly upgraded it and made it a state-recognized holy site, as well as giving representatives of the non-Orthodox movements a say in its governing body.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv, who is a Reform rabbi, said he expects a clear road map to build a proper egalitarian prayer site at the Western Wall in the months ahead.

“There were good tidings in the meeting, which must be translated into practical steps at the Kotel and in additional spheres,” Kariv said. “The role of this government is to return the extremists to the fringes and no longer let them dictate the agenda.”

United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni criticized Bennett for meeting with Reform and Conservative leaders and said, “He is one of them.”

Shas leader Arye Deri said: “The Kotel is not for sale or for negotiations.” A majority of Israeli citizens would “defend the holy site with their bodies” if Reform Jews were given a foothold at the site, he said.

Shas warned the Reform movement not to try to bring a Torah scroll to the Western Wall on Friday, which is Rosh Hodesh Adar II.

“We will be there, and we will stop you,” Shas said in a statement. “The Kotel is a redline.”