Liberal Jewish groups take battle over Western Wall to High Court
Women of the Wall and Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism petitioned the High Court of Justice to directly instruct the government to stop dragging its feet and set up an inclusive section in front of the Kotel for non gender-specific prayer; 'It's time to release the Kotel and make it a home to all women and men, instead of another state-funded Haredi refuge.'
Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and Women of the Wall filed an amended petition with the High Court of Justice (HCJ) on Thursday to set up a non-gender-specific prayer area at the Western Wall, or Kotel. "This petition is the most painful note we have inserted between the Kotel's walls," said Women of the Wall Chair Anat Hoffman.
The amendment seeks to review the original petition submitted in 2013, which demanded that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation allow for the representation of non-Orthodox sectors in Judaism and Jewish women before the Kotel. The government accepted the petition several months ago, including the suggested division to different prayer sections, with a separate area for the Women of the Wall (and those who choose to pray with them).
As such, after 27 years of continued struggle by Women of the Wall, the government passed a reconciliation agreement between the opposing sides on the matter, allowing for the erection of a new, liberal prayer sector on the wall's southern part. While not out-and-out agreeing to this, the ultra-orthodox parties in the government initially did not protest setting up a liberal prayer site. However, they later withdrew from their former stance of non-resistance and demanded that Netanyahu block the move.
The current suggested amendment seeks to either implement the government's acceptance of their 2013 petition or convert the current prayer area into a inclusive one for all those wishing to pray.
"In our petition, we wrote about the inflexibility and aggressiveness of the authorities that manage the Kotel, and that we demand justice and equality," wrote Hoffman in the amendment to the petition. She added that "It's time to release the Kotel and make it a home to all women and men, instead of another state-funded haredi refuge."
Since the ultra-orthodox's renewed resistance, there has been an attempt to reach a new compromise on the matter. The HCJ has already voiced its criticism of the government's foot dragging, which has also caused a rift between Israel and the international Jewish community, as it is mainly comprised of Reform and Conservative Jews, some of whom also took part in reaching the 2013 agreement. For this reason, the liberal movements and organizations involved are once again protesting the government's stalling over the implementation of its decision.
Yair Sheleg, an expert in religion and state at the nonpartisan think tank the Israel Democracy Institute, said the court would likely find in favor of the liberal organizations behind the petition. He speculated that Israeli leaders were shifting responsibility to the court to implement its decision "so they can say the liberal, secular Supreme Court decided this, not the government."
CEO of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel Yizhar Hess commented on this by saying, "It is with great pain that we submit this petition to the HCJ today. This is a moment that the Israeli government should be ashamed of. A country that respects itself should stand by the agreements that its government has officially passed through a legal, majority vote. This government, however, decided to give in to a small and extreme haredi minority that is successfully foiling a historical moment that would have delivered the Kotel to the Jewish people and Jerusalem to the consensus of world Jewry."
"I call upon the government to stop this drift and live up to its word," continued Hess. "The State of Israel claims to be the nation of the Jews, but when the chips are down, it betrays the Jewish people. Absurdly, it is this government, the most right-wing we have had, and which is a supposedly nationalist government, that is carrying out something that is fundamentally anti-Zionist."
Executive Director for the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism Rabbi Gilad Kariv added to the criticism, saying, "The deciding majority of the Jewish public in Israel and abroad supports setting up an inclusive sector in front of the Kotel, and the only thing that prevents this from happening is the government's embarrassing caving to the Haredi parties. I hope the HCJ will instruct the government to return the Kotel to Jewish people in its entirety."
AP contributed to this report.