'Nullifying Western Wall decision an attack on Jewish unity'

Defense Minister blasts government's decision to shelve plan to establish Reform prayer area at Western Wall. 'Come back to your senses'.

Hezki Baruch,

Avigdor Liberman
Avigdor Liberman
Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) castigated the government Sunday afternoon over its decision not to implement plans for the creation of a separate prayer area at the Western Wall for non-traditional Jewish movements to hold mixed-gender services.

Earlier on Sunday, the government voted to freeze the controversial plan, effectively nullifying an earlier decision in favor of the plan.

In response to demands by the Reform Movement and the small but vocal “Women of the Wall”, the government in 2016 adopted a plan to set aside the southern portion of the Western Wall, near Robinson’s Arch, for non-traditional, mixed-gender services by members of the Reform and Conservative Movements.

While the Reform and Conservative Movements have few members in Israel and are not officially recognized by the government, they have pushed in recent years for a foothold at the traditional Jewish prayer site in front of the Western Wall.

Religious parties in the coalition, however, have pushed for the nullification of the Western Wall Plaza agreement. Some members of the Jewish Home party, including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, have joined the haredi factions in opposing the deal.

On Sunday, the government voted to freeze the plan indefinitely, with just two cabinet members – Liberman and Yuval Steinitz – voting against the decision.

After the vote, Liberman blasted the decision, claiming it would cause serious harm to relations between Israel and the Diaspora.

“In January 2016 the Western Wall prayer plan was approved [by the government] after it was introduced by then-Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandleblit, someone who isn’t exactly known as a leader of the anti-religious agenda or someone who spreads hatred against haredim,” said Lieberman, referring to now-Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit, himself an Orthodox Jew.

“The Jewish Home Ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, also voted in favor of the plan.”

The Defense Minister also took aim at the proposed Conversion Law, which won government backing on Sunday.

The legislation would, if passed, end recognition of privately conducted conversions, affecting organizations like Tzohar, which offer Orthodox alternatives to the state’s Rabbinate system.

“The Conversion Law, in its present form, will push away anyone who wants to become Jewish. This law harms the conversion process [conducted by] the rabbis of Tzohar, and hurts the chances of many citizens of Israel - who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, served in the army, do reserve army duty, who work and pay taxes - from joining the Jewish people.

“In recent years the conversion authority has done everything in its power to reduce the number of conversions to the point that even Ruth the Moabite [the ancestor of King David who converted to Judaism] would not be accepted for conversion today. The one change that is needed today on the issue of conversion is the return of authority to the local city rabbis to establish local religious conversion courts, and to convert [people] in each city; the way it was until the mid-1990s.

“I call upon my peers in the national camp to come back to their senses and to prevent this split from dividing the Jewish people; to follow the path of Herzl, Jabotinsky, and Max Nordau.”