Addressing US Jewish assembly, Netanyahu takes on Western Wall prayer
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday directly confronted simmering anger in the American Jewish community about egalitarian prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, in an address to the Jewish Federations of North America annual gathering.
“Despite at times disparaging remarks about me and my government, I remain committed to moving forward,” Netanyahu said, “I believe that the Jewish people are all one family. I believe that Israel is the hope of the Jews and that all Jews should have access and prayer in the Kotel [Western Wall]”
Israel’s decision earlier this year to suspend its plans to construct an additional mix-gender prayer space at the holy site has enraged leaders of the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.
There is already an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, however it is removed from the main part of the wall where the overwhelming majority of Jews pray.
In a double-whammy to the secular community, the Knesset also advanced the Conversion Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that would essentially give the Israeli ultra-Orthodox a monopoly over Jewish conversions that would permanently exclude thousands of Jews.
A day before Netanyahu’s remarks the JNFA had passed a resolution slamming the Israeli government's two-fold decision, calling them “divisive and damaging steps,” declaring their intention to actively oppose the measures and urging, “the leaders of Israel to fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter and its detrimental effect on Jewish unity and world Jewry relations.”
The prime minister explained the government’s freezing of the construction by saying that “what the government froze in June was only the most ideological elements of the Western Wall plan.”
Ultra-Orthodox parties who are crucial to Netanayhu keeping his governing coalition together often take a cold or hostile view toward other streams of Judaism and have frequently attempted to scuttle or throw up obstacles to reformist policies.
Also on Monday Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin lamented the division the Western Wall issue has caused between Israel and the diaspora.
“It causes such pain that the symbol of unity, the Wall of our Tears and Joy, has become a symbol of division and disagreement,” Rivlin lamented in reference to the ongoing dispute about egalitarian prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
Expressing hope that conciliation would soon be reached on the holy site, Rivlin stated: “I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue.”
"We must all respect Israel’s democratic process,” he added, saying that “whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state ‘religion and state’ is a political issue - maybe the the most explosive one.”
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He hasn't said enough on female reform rabbis being able to pray at the western wall. It's also sad that patrilineal children (me) get pushed to the side if we go to Israel, because of the strict orthodox council.