The Israeli government has informed leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements that the Kosel plan which included a common entrance to the plaza for non-Orthodox groups and other upgrades has been permanently shelved, according to media reports on Monday.
In a tense meeting, Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) told a delegation at the current egalitarian prayer space, Azarat Yisrael, adjacent to the Kosel, that the plan which had been approved and subsequently frozen by the Cabinet would not be revived.
“While a formal decision of the government wasn’t possible, the prime minister is determined to continue advancing the plan for an egalitarian prayer space at the Kosel and is working toward that goal,” Hangebi said.
“I recognize and appreciate that suspending the Kosel arrangement created a perception among some that Israel no longer welcomes and appreciates all Jews. Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is a place for all Jews. That is true whether you wear a shtreimel, a knit kippah, a sheitel or nothing on your head at all.”
Hanegbi sought to assuage them with a promise of a 17 million shekel allocation ($4.8 million) to improve the site, but his listeners were clearly dissatisfied with what they regarded as cosmetic changes.
The government’s refusal to accede to demands from the non-Orthodox for a shared entrance to the Kosel plaza, symbolic of the equal treatment they have been seeking, was a particular sore point.
Hanegbi tried to persuade them that this was not really an issue of such great importance.
“I don’t think that the Jewish people for 3,500 years prayed for an entrance. We didn’t pray for an entrance — that’s not a big deal,” he said.
The minister said “I understand your frustration,” but the Reform and Conservative officials were not mollified.
But the reaction was described as angry. They accused the Israeli government of betraying them and causing a rift in the Jewish people.
At one point, Hanegbi did attempt what might have been taken as a gentle rebuke:
“If the Reform leaders will be less ready for confrontation and more ready for dialogue, I believe we will reach an agreement,” he said.
But that was not the feeling at the egalitarian prayer space on Monday.