Israeli Cabinet secretary plans to block Robinson’s Arch transfer

(JTA) — Israeli Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit intends to block a draft agreement that would transfer control of parts of the Western Wall to a right-wing Israeli nonprofit.

Mandelblit’s decision to oppose the tentative deal came shortly after a group of Reform and Conservative rabbis sent him a letter strongly protesting the transfer of control.

Under the deal, the government would have transferred control of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and Davidson Center to the City of David Foundation, according to Haaretz. The foundation runs the City of David tourist site outside Jerusalem’s Old City and works to settle Jews in the surrounding Arab neighborhood.

The Israeli Reform and Conservative movements have been negotiating with the government for months to expand a non-Orthodox prayer space at Robinson’s Arch, a section of the Western Wall that the deal would have included.

On Wednesday, the CEO of Israel’s Masorti Movement, Yizhar Hess, told JTA that the Reform and Conservative leaderships were not notified of the deal with the City of David Foundation before it was drafted.

Hess said that if implemented, the draft agreement would depart from a compromise on the Western Wall outlined  last year by the Jewish Agency for Israel’s chairman, Natan Sharansky. Sharansky’s outline proposed creating a pluralist council to manage the site.

“One of the primary issues of our negotiation, from the earliest stages of the Sharansky plan, was that religious governance and authority over the site would be granted to duly appointed religious leaders of the Reform and Masorti/Conservative movements, to serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister or his designates,” the rabbis’ letter stated. “Surely you will understand that we would like to know why the Government of the State of Israel does not accept our legitimacy to form a governance body, but find the [City of David Foundation] suitable to do this and much more.”

Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that meets monthly at the Western Wall and that is also negotiating the Robinson’s Arch expansion, also protested the draft agreement.

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