The Women of the Wall slammed the government’s latest proposal for a compromise on an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall during a High Court hearing on Sunday, months after the state backed out of its original commitments.
Orly Erez-Lachovsky, representing the group, which holds monthly services in which women read from Torah scrolls at the holy site, said that the government’s proposal for developing the site at the southern wall for egalitarian prayer, was meant to keep those worshipers “hidden behind fences and walls to convey the message that… [they] should pray like lepers.”
She said her group had agreed to compromise, to take into account the sensitivities of the Orthodox worshipers at the site. “We agreed to prevent hurting their feelings and move to the side,” she said, “but the state comes and says, ‘Accept a separate and unequal agreement which humiliates you.'”
The hearing, which lasted several hours, was the first presided over by the new chief justice of the Supreme Court, Esther Hayut. She slammed police for failing to stop protesters disrupting prayer sessions held by Women of the Wall.
The court was discussing the expansion of the egalitarian prayer platform at the holy site after the government cancelled the Western Wall compromise last year.
The government’s lawyer said that the state would present its plans for the site by the beginning of April. Yuval Roitman claimed that the government had already allocated a budget for developing the southern plaza.
“We have an agreement with the best contractor for this — the Israel Antiquities Authority,” Roitman told the court. “By the beginning of April, we are supposed to receive the full, detailed plan for the development of the site. We are working to advance it as soon as possible, but it is not simple.”
“The state is in charge of maintaining order and we can hope that you will do more to prevent such displays,” she said.
In response, a police spokesperson said, “The situation is complex and not simple.”
In November, the court gave police and Western Wall officials 30 days to explain why they are failing to protect female worshipers from harassment at the Jewish holy site in Jerusalem.
The Women of the Wall have long complained of harassment and discrimination by the Orthodox bodies governing the site.
The Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center slammed the government’s foot-dragging.
“In the Supreme Court discussion today it became clear that the Government of Israel does not have a timetable for establishing the egalitarian platform and that no detailed planning process has taken place,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, in a statement.
“The actions of the government over the past two years show that it obviously intends to keep the existing egalitarian platform completely separate from the Kotel, without using the appropriate budgets and without representation for the groups using the egalitarian platform in the governance of the site,” he added.
The group said it is “our belief and hope that when the Court sees the partial and unsuitable plans of the government, it will decide that its conduct discriminates against millions of Jews in Israel and throughout the world. We will continue to operate both in the legal and public spheres in order to achieve the desired reality where every Jew and every Jewish community can pray according to their traditions at the Western Wall in a respectful and egalitarian manner.”
In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to freeze the implementation of a permanent pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall, which was approved by government ministers in January 2016.
The cabinet’s decision was met with widespread dismay from liberal groups and Diaspora Jews.