Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to preserve the status quo at Jerusalem's Western Wall after his ultra-Orthodox coalition allies Shas tabled a bill that would curtail non-Orthodox prayer and criminalize certain behaviors at Judaism's holiest site.
"The status quo at the Western Wall, which is dear to all the people of Israel, will remain as it is today," he said.
"Even if the law were to be passed, it would not be passed with criminal penalties on clothing or musical instruments that were written 40 years ago and are not acceptable to anyone."
According to the legislative proposal, violating the site's strict dress code for women or playing musical instruments there would carry a NIS-10,000 fine or a six-month prison sentence.
According to the proposal, holding any religious ceremony that is not in accordance with local customs and could offend those praying in the complex, providing religious services of any kind without proper authorization, listening to music, and singing without permission, and mix-gendered prayers will all be punishable by law.
Sources in Netanayhu's ruling Likud party were surprised to learn about the bill and said that it was tabled without consulting them.
The proposal comes following an appeal to the Supreme Court by "Women of the Wall," who seek greater religious freedom at the Western Wall. The appeal will be discussed at the end of February, seeking to implement the 2017 Western Wall plan to designate a central mixed prayer area for women and men in the complex.
The bill is also believed to be designed to embarrass the coalition for stalling the advancement of legislation that would see Shas leader Arye Deri back in the government after the High Court of Justice ruled last month that he was unfit for a role in the Cabinet due to his past criminal convictions.
This casts a spotlight on the complex relationship between the premier and the Haredi leader who are considered long-time allies.