Government Officials Blame Reform Movement for Kosel Crisis

(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

While Reform and Conservative groups continued on Wednesday to put pressure on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to cancel the Cabinet decision to suspend the plan for an egalitarian prayer space at the Kosel, government officials were quoted as blaming the leaders of those groups for intemperate conduct that jeopardized the sensitive negotiations to reach an agreement.

“The government and senior officials involved in implementing the January 2016 resolution had expressed concern at the time that the non-Orthodox heads not be overly triumphant once the deal had been approved for fear of sparking a backlash against it, especially with regard to the sensitive issue of state recognition for their denominations,” The Jerusalem Post wrote on Wednesday night.

However, their cautions went unheeded, and prospects for the delicate compromise were in fact harmed.

Upon approval of the resolution by the Cabinet on Jan. 31, 2016, there was unrestrained triumphalism and glee everywhere in the media from Reform and Conservative spokesmen. In particular, the stress they placed on the plan as an implied recognition of non-Orthodox Jews and Judaism was bound to provoke a backlash among chareidim in Israel, and did.

The Reform leaders hailed the “historic moment in which the prayer services and customs of the non-Orthodox denominations will for the first time receive official status and standing in Israel law,” while the Women of the Wall said it showed that “there is more than one way to be Jewish in Israel.”

The result that government officials had warned about came to pass. Opposition to the plan stiffened.

Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef and Yerushalayim Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar denounced the agreement, and Religious Services Minister David Azouali of Shas, whose signature was required on the administrative order to authorize the plan, refused to sign, on instructions from Shas chairman Aryeh Deri.

In addition, a request from Netanyahu to call off a rally at the Kosel at that difficult juncture was ignored. As he told the Jewish Agency’s board of governors, “The last thing we need is more friction, as that will make a solution more difficult.” But the rally went ahead, and ugly scenes ensued at the Kosel.

“That event left the chareidi politicians with zero political space to maneuver and compromise. It was predictable and avoidable,” a senior Israeli official told the Post on Wednesday.

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