US lawmakers criticize Netanyahu for suspending Western Wall agreement


(JTA) — Four Jewish members of Congress criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspension of an agreement to build a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall.

Reps. Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey and Jerry Nadler of New York joined Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida in criticizing Netanyahu for reneging on the deal in a Sunday Cabinet vote. The lawmakers are all Democrats.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said his Cabinet had suspended the deal passed in 2016 as a result of negotiations between the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. The suspension came after Netanyahu’s haredi Orthodox coalition partners put pressure on Netanyahu to scrap the agreement, which would have expanded the egalitarian prayer section.

Netanyahu’s suspension raised ire among an array of critics, including the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Reform movement, which both canceled meetings with the prime minister in the wake of the decision.

Engel and Lowey urged Israel to reconsider suspending the agreement, The Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.

“I typically refrain from weighing in on internal Israeli government decisions,” Engel said, “but the recent developments affecting Kotel prayer and conversion have deeply affected the entire Jewish community, including communities in my district. 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.”

Lowey said that “Israel should provide an opportunity for all Jews, men and women, to have egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.”

Nadler expressed worries that suspending the agreement could stoke Israel critics.

“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,” he said.

Deutch said he some of his Jewish constituents had expressed disappointment to him about Netanyahu’s decision.

“These are members of the community who deeply love and support Israel,” he told Haaretz, “and they’re hurt and disappointed. I have to say I’m disappointed, too. And I say that not just as a member of Congress, but also as an American Jew.”

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