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Diaspora Minister to PM: Implement Western Wall agreement immediately

CM 05/09/2021

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Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai has called on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to immediately implement the Western Wall agreement for a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the holy site.
In a letter which Shai sent to Bennett via the cabinet secretary, the minister said the agreement could be implemented through a vote at the very next cabinet meeting, following its indefinite suspension in 2017 by the government of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The excitement and holiness on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and the holiday season are not complete, a lot of precious time has passed without a unifying, equitable, and fair framework for all worshipers, men, and women, who come to the Western Wall,” Shai wrote.

DIASPORA AFFAIRS MINISTER Nachman Shai arrives to the President’s Residence last month. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)DIASPORA AFFAIRS MINISTER Nachman Shai arrives to the President’s Residence last month. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

“The Western Wall is the house of prayer for all the Jewish people, in Israel and the Diaspora, and the government of Israel has the responsibility to immediately ensure the right to egalitarian prayer at the southern plaza,” the minister added.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett did not respond to his minister’s comments.
The Western Wall agreement of 2016 was approved by the cabinet after a compromise was reached between various political parties, agencies, and religious groups, including the ultra-Orthodox parties, and would have seen the creation of a government-recognized prayer site for non-Orthodox prayer at the southern end of the Western Wall.
The site would have a separate governing body from the main Western Wall complex with representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements on the body, and would also be given a dramatic physical renovation.

Coronavirus regulations are kept at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Coronavirus regulations are kept at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

As a consequence, non-Orthodox prayer and the Women of the Wall prayer services would not be allowed in the main Western Wall plaza.
The deal was indefinitely frozen in 2017 by Netanyahu and his cabinet due to pressure by the ultra-Orthodox parties who retracted their support after intense internal pressure.
Labor MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, former director of the Reform movement in Israel, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and a member of Bennett’s coalition, also called on the prime minister to implement the agreement.
Kariv said that the prime minister should “restart” the Western Wall agreement, adding that Bennett should also hold meetings with the heads of the denominations and organizations that were involved in forming the plan.
“Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a complete disconnect between the Prime Minister’s Office which is in charge of the site, and the partners to the outline, the leadership of the movements and organizations representing the public which uses the site,” said Kariv.
“The previous government also refrained from taking any significant steps to prevent repeated disturbances to prayer services at the [current egalitarian] site, some of which were led by rabbis holding state and public positions, as we, unfortunately, saw on the night of Tisha Be’Av,” said the MK.
Hardline Orthodox activists took over the egalitarian prayer section, set up a gender-divider fence, and severely disrupted the prayer service of a Masorti (Conservative) prayer group.
Kariv also called on the prime minister to appoint a coordinator for the current egalitarian site on his behalf in the Prime Minister’s Office to deal with problems affecting the site, ahead of the implementation of the full Western Wall agreement.
As well as repeated use by Orthodox activists of the site in contravention of the designation of the area for non-Orthodox prayer, other issues include the three-year closure of a small platform next to the stones of the wall at the site which is the only actual access to the wall itself from the egalitarian section, as well as a lack of toilets at the site which has led to public urination at the southern section.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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