President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday urged the government to prioritize the “unity of the Jewish people” and retain its role as the state for all Jews, following the fallout from a recent cabinet decision freezing a deal to establish a permanent pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall.
“The State of Israel is the state of all the Jewish People and will continue to be faithful to that commitment. Our fellow Jews in the Diaspora have an important and significant role in the building of the State of Israel,” the president said in an open letter.
“This has always been so, and will continue to be so. The unity of the Jewish People must always remain an important aspiration of the governments of Israel.”
In his letter, Rivlin also said while many Israelis and Diaspora Jews don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, these “painful” differences must not undermine the understanding of the Western Wall’s importance for all Jews.
“During this process we inevitably have to face difficult disputes among us, disputes that are both painful and yet very real, founded in genuine belief. Even so, we must remember that beyond the disagreements, we are all one family and that every Jew has a special place in their heart for the Kotel, the last remnant of our Holy Temple,” he said, using the Hebrew name for the Western Wall.
Sunday’s cabinet decision to halt the January 2016 agreement establishing the new permanent pluralistic prayer area at the Western Wall, over which non-Orthodox religious groups would have had shared oversight, has been met with widespread dismay from liberal groups and Diaspora Jews, with one prominent North American Jewish leader comparing the move to a “sucker punch.”
In response to the decision, the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors — which was meeting in Jerusalem this week — took the unprecedented step on Monday of calling on the government to reverse the move.
The decision to freeze the agreement coincided with a High Court of Justice 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 by this week. On Wednesday, the High Court said a hearing will now be head in July. Currently there is a temporary prayer facility at the Arch.
The move also came amid pressure from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers to dial back the plan to establish the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. Following the decision, a number of ultra-Orthodox lawmakers made statements questioning Reform and Conservative Jewry’s connection to the site, further adding to the tensions surrounding the cabinet decision.
Despite the pushback, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the move, with an aide to the premier saying on Monday that it will in fact help push the deal forward, and that Netanyahu had no choice but to halt the agreement as a result of pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties, whose support he needs to maintain his ruling coalition.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.