MKs, Diaspora leaders quarrel in Knesset meeting on Western Wall deal

Justifying objections to a pluralistic prayer space, Shas MK Malchieli says there are certain places that ‘you don’t enter with dogs’

Lawmakers argue during a meeting of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on November 1, 2017. (Screen capture/Knesset Channel)
Lawmakers argue during a meeting of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on November 1, 2017. (Screen capture/Knesset Channel)

Tempers flared at a Wednesday meeting of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, with lawmakers and American Jewish leaders exchanging heated snipes over the government’s decision to freeze a plan for a permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall.

“When we go to various different places abroad, we automatically align (our behavior) with the (local customs). We know that there are places that you don’t enter with dogs and there are places that require modest clothing,” said Shas MK Michael Malchieli in an apparent jab at the religious customs of non-Orthodox Jews.

“Are you comparing dogs and women?” Michal Biran of Zionist Union shot back.

Jewish Home lawmaker Moti Yogev took Malchieli’s side. “Why do you even take interest in the Western Wall? Since when is it so dear to you [so as] to provoke an argument over it? Just as I don’t get involved in gay and lesbian clubs, why do you meddle with a place that has been so dear to the people of Israel for generations?”

Shas parliament member Michael Malchieli attends the third Shas conference at Ramada hotel in Jerusalem on February 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The Western Wall does not belong to your father or you personally. I am also part of the Jewish people,” Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg retorted.

“MK Michaeli apparently did not learn anything from history, and thinks that the comparison between Jews and dogs is an acceptable one to make, not to mention in the Israeli parliament,” Zandberg said in a statement after the committee meeting.

An August 31 High Court decision had directed the state to readdress its refusal to implement the January 2016 government decision to build a mixed-gender plaza at the Western Wall, and if not, to examine “whether there is a legal option [for the court] to obligate the state to implement the Western Wall decision.”

In response the government said last month it has no plans to “rethink” its freeze of the decision to create a permanent pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall — and that the court cannot compel it to implement the plan.

The decision to freeze the agreement coincided with a High Court deadline for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the agreement and construct the mixed-gender plaza near Robinson’s Arch.

The cabinet’s decision was met with widespread dismay from liberal groups and Diaspora Jews.

Also addressing the Wednesday committee meeting was Jewish Federations of North America President Jerry Silverman, who said the government’s backtracking greatly angered US Jewry.

Jerry Silverman, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (screenshot: YouTube)

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, shared a similarly frustrated message to the lawmakers, who accused Israel of “betraying” Diaspora Jewry.

On Monday, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told senior leaders of Diaspora Jewry that the government will not fully implement the Western Wall compromise.

In a bid to calm the visibly upset Diaspora leaders, he promised changes to the visual appearance of the pluralistic site. However, he made plain that the government is not going to build a common entranceway to be shared by the Wall’s various areas, as had been agreed to by the government and Jewish organizations.

The government has allocated NIS 17 million ($4.8 million) to improve the site, Hangebi said, adding that he agreed that conditions at the pluralistic prayer platform need to be improved.

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