‘No more excuses’: Conservative Movement slams shelving of Western Wall compromise

Movement calls apparent decision to hold off on establishing formal egalitarian prayer pavilion ‘entirely unacceptable,’ saying it has waited patiently amid repeated promises

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly on Tuesday issued a blistering rebuke of the new government’s apparent decision to hold off on a promised plan to implement the long-frozen Western Wall compromise, which would see the formalization of an egalitarian prayer pavilion at the Kotel.

“The Israeli government’s abdication of responsibility on important issues of religious freedom is entirely unacceptable,” the movement’s CEO Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal said in a statement.

On Sunday, The Times of Israel reported 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. When asked about the report on Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid effectively confirmed it, saying that while he supports the compromise, “not everything can be done at once. We have four years during which we will advance many great things.”

Lapid had been among a handful of government ministers that repeatedly — both publicly and behind closed doors — promised leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements that the new government would implement the deal signed and later shelved by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

When the government was sworn in, Lapid and others changed tunes, saying they would be able to get to the matter once the budget passed. That goal was accomplished in early November, but no progress has been made in implementing the arrangement since.

“As a movement, we waited patiently for the formation of the new administration. We then experienced delays during budget negotiations. And again, waiting for the budget to be approved. There can be no more excuses for delaying implementation of the Kotel agreement,” Blumenthal said.

“We cannot be swayed by threats of violence and should not let voices of extremism delay the establishment of a place for all Jews to feel at home at the Kotel,” the Conservative Movement’s leader added, in an apparent reference to an aggressive campaign launched by Haredi parties, who have described the deal they once signed off on in 2016 as an unacceptable red line.

Kahana, who has already been under fire from the national religious and Haredi camps for reforms he’s seeking to implement in the Kashrut and conversion spheres, apparently hesitated to anger those in the opposition once again.

Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal. (Rabbinical Assembly via JTA)

“It’s imperative that Israel provide the necessary resources to guarantee the right to peace and security for all worshipers in the single holiest place for Jews. We expect the government to uphold its promise of religious pluralism in Israel and specifically of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall,” the Conservative movement statement continued.

“With love for all Jews, we affirm that the State of Israel is the national homeland of the entire Jewish people, including those living in the land and those outside of it, and regardless of their stream of Jewish practice or belief,” Blumenthal said.

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.

Shalom Yerushalmi contributed to this report.

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