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Lapid backs shelving of Western Wall compromise: ‘We have 4 years’

Foreign minister says he supports creating formal pavilion for egalitarian prayer, but indicates there’s no rush as ministers slam brakes on plan

Yair Lapid prays at the Western Wall, on July 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yair Lapid prays at the Western Wall, on July 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid indicated Monday that he supports the apparent shelving of the so-called Western Wall compromise, which would see the formalization of a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Kotel.

The Times of Israel reported Sunday that Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana had decided together with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to put off plans to implement the agreement frozen by the previous government in 2017. Lapid had been among the handful of senior members of the new government who had pledged to unfreeze the deal.

But asked about the matter during a Yesh Atid faction meeting, Lapid appeared to fall in line with Kahana and Bennett’s plan to slam the brakes on the proposal, amid significant pushback from Haredi and right-wing lawmakers in the opposition.

“I support the [Western Wall] compromise [agreement], but not everything can be done at once,” Lapid said. We have four years during which we will advance many great things.”

The foreign minister did not comment further on the matter.

Lapid and others had told supporters of the Western Wall agreement that once the new coalition passed a budget, it would be able to tackle the campaign pledge. But over a month after the budget passed, the government appears to be having a hard time following through.

The move to put off the issue is already facing opposition by the plan’s backers, who say they’ve waited long enough.

Screen capture from video of a Torah scroll brought by Labor MK Gilad Kariv to the Western Wall for use in a women’s prayer group is held aloft, April, 14, 2021. (Israel Hayom)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai and MK Gilad Kariv, both of the center-left Labor party, said Sunday that Kahana doesn’t have the authority to shelve the proposal.

The arrangement, long a point of contention between the government and Diaspora Jewry, was negotiated between Israel and Diaspora leaders over more than three years and was approved by the Benjamin Netanyahu-led government in 2016. However, it was indefinitely suspended by Netanyahu in 2017, under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

“Despite [opposition head Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Shas party chairman Aryeh] Deri’s false attempts to enflame the Western Wall and deepen the division among the Jewish people for political and personal reasons, the current government has renewed its strategic dialogue between the State of Israel and the liberal streams on the Western Wall and many other issues,” Kariv said Sunday, referring to the Shas campaign backed by Likud to prevent the implementation of the 2016 deal reached by the Likud-led former government.

“As noted in a statement to the High Court delivered a few days ago, the current government is committed to the process of establishing an egalitarian and state-owned prayer plaza at the Western Wall,” said Kariv, a Reform rabbi.

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett (C), Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern and Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana (left) seen during a plenum session at the Knesset on November 8, 2021 (Courtesy Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the Times of Israel report, which initially appeared in Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Bennett and Kahana have decided to freeze the plan again, and maybe give up on it for good.

“We have decided to not deal with this now, period,” Kahana told aides over the weekend.

“The Western Wall compromise has become a focus for incitement and hatred, especially by people from Likud, who are latching onto it. We cannot play into their hands. We’re freezing everything at the moment. We’re not touching it,” Kahana said.

Shai, the Diaspora affairs minister, said Sunday in a statement, “This week marks a half-year of the government’s welcome activity. But a government that wants to last is first and foremost advised to learn to respect coalition agreements.

“The government of Israel will continue to strive for the implementation of the Western Wall compromise. As long as [the Labor party] sits in government, we will push for equality for all streams of Judaism,” he said.

Shalom Yerushalmi contributed to this report.

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