WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is engaging with the Israeli government and American Jewish community leaders to encourage a resolution to a growing crisis over the status of prayer at the Western Wall, an administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has “urged the parties to reengage with each other” and to “resolve this matter consensually,” the official said.Under pressure from haredi parties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a commitment he made last year to recognize an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel.But America’s largest Jewish organizations – including the nonpartisan Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League – reacted furiously, calling on local chapter leaders to lobby Israeli diplomats and consulates to pressure the prime minister.
“We are aware of the government of Israel’s recent decision regarding prayer at the Western Wall, and we are seeking further information,” the Trump administration official said. “We recognize that the issue of egalitarian prayer services at the Western Wall is a source of tension between various segments of the Jewish community, and we would encourage continued dialogue.”The JFNA leadership is encouraging its constituents to reach out to Israeli diplomats, according to an internal email obtained by the Post. Its leaders, as well as leaders from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have met in recent days with Netanyahu and encouraged him to stay his prior course.Members of Congress typically reluctant to criticize the Israeli government are beginning to express concern as well, as the crisis begins to touch their constituents.“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,” Rep. Eliot Engel, Democrat from New York, told the Post. “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.”Another New York Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey, “strongly urged” Netanyahu on Wednesday to change course.“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.”Rep. Jerry Nadler, another Democrat from New York, was harshest of all, saying the decision should “disappoint everyone who extols Israel as a champion of religious freedom and a model of pluralism” in a press release.“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 congressmen are Jewish and represent some of the largest Jewish communities in the United States.
In presidential first, Trump prays at Jerusalem"s Western Wall (credit: REUTERS)