US congressmen lament divisive Western Wall prayer plaza decision

US congressmen lament divisive Western Wall prayer plaza decision

Democrats Jerrold Nadler and Ted Deutch say they have been swamped with complaints from American Jews

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York. (Courtesy)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York. (Courtesy)

Two Jewish American congressman said they are being flooded with complaints about an Israeli government decision to back out of an agreement over a new pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with one calling the move “an insult.”

Jewish voters have asked the US lawmakers to convince the Israeli government to change its mind, the Haaretz Hebrew daily reported on Wednesday.

New York Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler explained that people are very angry and disappointed.

Nadler said that last year he sent a letter to the United Nations and its cultural body, UNESCO, protesting against a resolution which denied any connection between the Western Wall and the Jewish religion. Nadler said Jews from his voting district are now asking why the Israeli government is denying their connection to the holy site.

On Sunday, the cabinet suspended the government-approved plan to establish a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, which was to have had joint oversight by all streams of Judaism, following calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal.

The move drew a storm of protest and criticism from liberal Jewish groups and the Jewish Agency.

Nadler called the decision “an insult” to every Jewish community and said it amounted to the Israeli government telling the majority of US Jews that as far as it is concerned they aren’t relevant.

“The Western Wall is important to all Jews and the government is denying that,” Nadler said.

Those who are most angry are the one who are most involved in activities on behalf of Israel, he explained. However, many who are indifferent to Israel on other matters may seize on the Western Wall situation to complain about the country’s policies, he speculated.

Nadler urged US Jews to continue supporting Israel even as they campaigned against the decision.

Democratic Florida congressman Ted Deutch told Haaretz Tuesday that he too had been swamped with phone calls from angry constituents.

The complaints, he said, were coming from people who “love Israel and are committed to it.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Deutch, who in 2015 broke party ranks and opposed the nuclear deal with Iran, said he was personally disappointed with the development not just as a congressman, but as a US Jew himself.

The cabinet decision was, he said, sending a “bad message to the Jews of the United States.”

Deutch noted that in 2016 he personally asked Netanyahu to advance the Western Wall agreement after it became bogged down at the beginning of last year. At the time he made it clear to Israeli officials that the issue was not just about the Western Wall but was also about the connection between Israel and the vast majority of the Jews in America, he recalled.

Like Nadler, Deutch warned the fuss over the prayer section was drawing more people into the matter, including those who were not involved before.

The Western Wall, the holiest place of prayer for Jews, is honored as a remnant of a wall supporting the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Also known by its Hebrew name the Kotel, it has gained unparalleled religious and symbolic importance.

Also Wednesday Haaretz reported that the Foreign Ministry had instructed its eight consulates in the US to prepare for dealing with the backlash over the Western Wall decision.

A memo sent to the consulates called on staff to clarify what it said was “a great deal of misinformation” by stressing that the government decision to create the prayer pavilion “was not nullified but suspended,” the report said.

In a statement on Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to formulate a new plan for the site.

It also said construction work on the southern edge of the Western Wall plaza — where the pluralistic prayer pavilion was slated to be built — would continue uninterrupted.

read more: