Netanyahu says non-Orthodox Jews used Western Wall deal to gain recognition


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel of using their partnership in the Western Wall agreement as a clandestine way to gain recognition.

Netanyahu told reporters in New York on Monday night that the Reform and Conservative movements wanted to get recognition “via the backdoor, secretly, under the pretext of a technical clause of joint administration of the Western Wall,” Army Radio reporter Ilil Shahar said in a tweet.

Netanyahu is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly and was speaking to the body on Tuesday.

Amid pressure by its haredi Orthodox coalition partners, the Israeli government in June suspended the agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall after passing the deal in 2016. The government had negotiated the agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements along with the Women of the Wall group and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The agreement put the upgraded egalitarian section on equal footing with the single-sex section and allowed it to be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon that Netanyahu was now fully in the haredi camp. He accused the prime minister of  being held hostage to the religious parties.

Kariv pointed out that the prime minister had been involved in every aspect of the negotiations for the deal and also claimed credit for it when it passed.

He said the Reform movement did “not clandestinely demand recognition, we are doing it openly, with transparency and conviction.”

Also Tuesday, the government told the court it has no plans to reconsider its decision to freeze the Western Wall agreement.

The State Attorney’s Office in a filing with Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday wrote that Netanyahu had “considered the circumstances of the issue and decided not to bring the Western Wall agreement for an additional hearing in the cabinet.”

The state also said in its filing that the agreement was not under the court’s jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit filed by the progressive Jewish denominations and Women of the Wall that calls for the implementation of the agreement or demands the establishment of an egalitarian prayer area at the main Western Wall plaza.

The government has said it plans to go forward with the expansion of the egalitarian section despite the freeze.


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