UTJ threatens not to vote with government if Western Wall plan is implemented

The party’s threat is the culmination of more than a month of seething anger among the haredi political and rabbinic leadership over the agreement to create a pluralist prayer area.

Women pray at the Western Wall (photo credit: JWRP)
Women pray at the Western Wall
(photo credit: JWRP)
United Torah Judaism issued an explicit threat Monday night that it would not vote with the government if changes are not made to the plan to create an upgraded and state-recognized pluralist prayer area at the Western Wall.
The party’s forewarning is the culmination of more than a month of seething anger among the ultra-Orthodox political and rabbinic leadership over the agreement to create a large prayer space at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall for non-Orthodox prayer, despite that party leaders from UTJ and Shas were fully aware of the deal before it was approved.
The six UTJ MKs wrote a short letter to coalition chairman MK Tzachi Hanegbi pointing out that no progress had been made on any of the party’s demands regarding “the problem of the Reformers.”
This was in addition to several other concerns, laid out in a letter sent last month by UTJ faction chairman MK Menahem Eliezer Moses to Likud MK Yariv Levin, who is responsible for bridging between the government and the Knesset. great Torah leaders have instructed us, we hereby inform you that if there is no progress on these issues before the end of the Knesset winter session, we will view this as a violation of the coalition agreement and we will not be able to continue to support coalition votes,” wrote the MKs.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post earlier on Monday, UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler said the party would not leave the coalition but would remain to fight against the Western Wall agreement from inside the government.
“UTJ wants to stay in the government and [Benjamin] Netanyahu wants to remain the prime minister. The one breaking the government apart is him not us,” Eichler said.
“We will not quit. We will not give the Reform [Movement] this pleasure. They want us to quit but we will stay inside [the government] and protect the holiness of the Western Wall,” he continued, alluding to possible retribution the party could take within the coalition by stalling government legislation.
The MK denounced the agreement itself, labeling the non-Orthodox proponents of the pluralist prayer space “provocateurs” and “the Reform Natorei Karta” in reference to the notoriously extreme anti-Zionist haredi group. He said the “secular regime,” meaning the government, would never allow such provocation in a mosque or church.
“In al-Aksa Mosque everyone knows that no Muslim in the world can come and ask to change the prayer services, because there is respect of the people of a religion for their religion. The only people fighting a war against the Jewish religion is the State of Israel,” fumed Eichler.
He said the plan to upgrade the pluralist prayer space wouldn’t work because the non-Orthodox movements wanted a war with the religious establishment.
He said “if they wanted to pray they would have done so in the current plaza according to the existing regulations or in the [Robinson’s Arch] site allocated to them.
“The majority of the year it’s empty. It’s naive of the people who created the plan to think that this would solve the problem. They wanted a war, and they’ve got a war, because the secular regime and the ‘Reform’ High Court supports them.”
Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, said in response that the agreement over the new pluralist prayer space at the Western Wall brought the holy site back into the framework of Jewish consensus.
He added that Eichler’s anger at the plan was a sign of the “collapsing control” of the Orthodox establishment over religious life in Israel.
“Eichler represents a radical, fundamentalist minority, even in the framework of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and the fact that he is so hysterical about something that most Jews in the world are joyful just goes to show that the Orthodox monopoly is about to collapse, as every monopoly does when it feels its foundations are cracking,” he said. “I have full confidence in the prime minister that he will fulfill his commitments and implement the resolution on the Western Wall that was passed by his government with a significant majority.”