Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday denounced a protest held last week at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall against mixed-gender prayer services being held there, after a top US official compared the incident to antisemitism.
The comments, Lapid’s first on the matter, came nearly a week after the incident, and only as a result of a direct question from a journalist.
Last Thursday, several dozen Orthodox men and boys entered the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, an area south of the main plaza also known as Robinson’s Arch, equipped with whistles and signs, as a number of families from the United States were holding hold bar mitzvah ceremonies for their children there. The youths attempted to disrupt the services, blowing the whistles, calling the worshipers “Nazis” and “animals,” and at one point ripping up a prayer book, whereupon one boy used a torn page to wipe his nose.
“I am against all violence at the Western Wall against people who want to pray as their faith allows them. This cannot continue,” Lapid said, speaking to reporters in Paris following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Lapid was asked about the incident after US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt wrote in a tweet that if such a thing had happened in any other country, “there’d be little hesitation in labeling it antisemitism.” Lapid did not directly respond to Lipstadt’s remark, but said he was a “big fan” of her work.
Lapid has been a proponent of implementing the so-called Western Wall compromise, a deal that would, among other things, give non-Orthodox streams of Judaism an official role in the management of the holy site. However, despite promises to act on the matter, the outgoing government did not advance the issue during its year in office due to internal opposition to the plan.
“I’ve said more than once that Israel is the only Western country in which Jews don’t have freedom of worship, which is unacceptable to me,” Lapid said.
He made no mention of promises made by his coalition partner and predecessor as prime minister Naftali Bennett to improve security at the egalitarian plaza, which has been overrun by Orthodox protesters in the past as well. In February, Bennett told Reform and Conservative leaders that his office would upgrade both security for the egalitarian section and the facilities themselves, a move that does not require a Knesset majority or cabinet approval. As of last month, however, those promises have yet to be fulfilled.
“Violence is not acceptable to me or to the government. If we need to, we’ll talk to the police commissioner,” Lapid said.
Police officers were at the scene last Thursday but largely refrained from intervening, save for when there were overt acts of violence against the worshipers. No arrests were made.
Many of those present at the prayer services said they were shocked by the police inaction that day and expressed disappointment at most Israeli politicians’ disregard for the incident.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.