Bennett, senior minister support Kotel agreement - Diaspora Min.

Shai has already submitted a government resolution to the cabinet to implement the 2016 Western Wall agreement.

The egalitarian section of the Western Wall last week with new wooden floorboards. (photo credit: LIBA CENTER)
The egalitarian section of the Western Wall last week with new wooden floorboards.
(photo credit: LIBA CENTER)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said on Monday that the government leadership, including the prime minister, alternative prime minister and other senior ministers, back the Western Wall agreement and that it would be approved after the state budget is passed, the deadline for which is next month.

Speaking at the launch of a new “Freedom of Religion and Jewish Renewal Caucus” at a Knesset event on Monday, Shai said he has already submitted a government resolution to the cabinet to implement the 2016 Western Wall agreement that was indefinitely frozen in 2017 following pressure from the ultra-Orthodox political parties.

The minister claimed that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternative Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, and “even” Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin all support re-approving the agreement that would see the establishment of a state-recognized egalitarian section at the southern end of the Western Wall.

DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with newly sworn-in ministers in June (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with newly sworn-in ministers in June (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Elkin was a minister when the cabinet voted on the resolution in 2016, but voted against the deal along with ultra-Orthodox and conservative religious-Zionist ministers.

Shai said the government “would come to an agreement” on the issue immediately after the passage of the state budget, which must be passed by November 14.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party issued a statement following Shai’s comments saying it would “fight with all its force” against the Western Wall agreement.

“The Reform and Conservatives are sticking their hooves into the holy of holies of the Jewish people, and getting a foothold in the Western Wall,” the party said in a statement to the press.

“We will protect, without compromise, the Western Wall and its sanctity, and we will not allow anyone to desecrate it,” the party added.

During the launch of the Knesset caucus, Transportation Minister and head of the Labor Party Merav Michaeli also addressed the issue of the holy site, and said the country will need to “re-liberate” the Western Wall since it is now perceived to be an “ultra-Orthodox synagogue” by the majority of Israeli citizens.

“We don’t need to make an effort regarding access to the Western Wall just for Diaspora Jews, although it is important to do so for Diaspora Jews, but not only,” said the transportation minister during the launch of the caucus.

“The fact that the majority of Israeli citizens have become accustomed to thinking about the Western Wall as an ultra-Orthodox synagogue is damaging... [and] must be redressed.

“It’s not enough to make an egalitarian section at the Western Wall, one day we will need to re-liberate the Western Wall.”

A recent investigative report by The Marker found that the administrator of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, has granted privileged access to synagogues and public spaces inside the Western Wall complex to wealthy donors to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation that runs the site.

The Western Wall has also for many years been a battleground for equal access for progressive Jewish denominations and the Women of the Wall prayer rights organization.

The event launching the new Knesset caucus was attended by several liberal and progressive MKs and ministers, including Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, MK and Reform rabbi Gilad Kariv, Michaeli, and others.

Joint chair of the caucus and Meretz MK Michal Rozin insisted that as a “secular woman” who associates with a Reform synagogue, “Judaism is as much mine as anyone else’s,” and said she would “fight for the right to chose” how to celebrate Judaism.

“We will not let anyone discriminate against any group in the name of Judaism, we will fight against religious coercion,” said Rozin.

And another joint chair of the caucus, Yesh Atid MK Moshe Turpaz, who is Orthodox, asserted that 80% of Israelis want a more pluralistic approach to Jewish life in the Jewish state, and insisted that there were different ways to be a Jew.