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PM appeases Haredi parties, freezing Kotel’s egalitarian area plans
Liberal Reform movement leader decries government's 'shameful and miserable act of submission to pressures of ultra-Orthodox parties' for temporarily quashing plans to create an egalitarian section at the Kotel; vows to seek High Court’s intervention; Rabbi Lau welcomes decision; 'The decision to divide the Western Wall was fundamentally wrong.
The government voted Sunday afternoon to freeze progress on plans to construct an egalitarian section at the Western Wall to cater for the holy site’s more liberal visitors following pressure exerted by Haredi parties opposed to the move.

 

 

With the latest development in what Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu) has argued would wrench Jews apart both inside and outside Israel along religious lines, any further request to advance the change will require another governmental decision. Meanwhile, the status quo in the management of the Kotel will remain unchanged.

 

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

 

In another victory for the Haredi and religious parties, a Conversion Bill, which will enable the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate to retain exclusive control over all conversion matters, was approved in the Knesset plenum.

 

Following a stormy debate on the matter of the Kotel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually accepted the position of the ultra-Orthodox parties who demanded that the changes that would transform the Kotel be obstructed or all together cancelled.

 

To that end, they agreed to freezing the plans in order to circumvent a situation in which there is no governmental decision on the issue, effectively clearing the way for the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to intervene.

 

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) and Lieberman were the only two who demurred in the decision, voting against putting the brakes on the plan. By contrast, leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties praised the decision, stating that it reflects the will of the majority of the country to preserve the sanctity of the site.

 

Photo: AP (Photo: AP)
Photo: AP

 

Minister Lieberman warned that cancelling the plans would only harm the unity of the coalition and the state and would also jeopardize relations between Israeli Jews and International Jewry. Turning to the Conversion Bill, Lieberman was equally critical of its consequences. “What the management of the conversions does is alienate people from Judaism,” he argued.

 

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi lauded the prime minister’s decision to temporarily nullify the plan. “The decision of the government that will divide the Western Wall—which is the heart of the Jewish people—was fundamentally wrong and it is a good thing that it was stopped.” Rabbi Lau said.

 

“The Western Wall is not about to be divided, and the people of Israel have come throughout the years from around the world to the Kotel and it will continue that way as the one heart according to the Halacha (Jewish law) and tradition,” he added before thanking the government for its decision.

 

Leader of the Shas party and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri also welcomed the move. “I am please that the government accepted our demands to cancel the plan that harms its status as a holy site,” Deri said.

 

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

 

At the other opposite side of the spectrum, the more pluralist Reform leader Rabbi Gilad Kariv scolded the government, accusing it of bowing to Haredi demands. “The government decision is a shameful and miserable act of submission to the pressures of the ultra-Orthodox parties and it is harmful to the fundamental interests of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Kariv vented.

 

“The prime minister and his partners lent a hand to an anti-Zionist move,” he continued before echoing the sentiments of Lieberman. “It harms Israel's ties with the Diaspora and weakens the connection of millions of Jews to Jerusalem.”

 

Kariv also pledged to continue the “struggle for equality and freedom of religion at the Kotel and every other place in Jerusalem.”

 

Before the dust has even had time to begin settling on the matter, Kariv announced that he had already approached the HCJ. “I hope that it will choose to protect the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

 

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