Netanyahu backs pluralistic prayer at Western Wall without recognition of Reform Judaism

The prime minister voiced support for a new pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall, but he made it clear that non-Orthodox streams will not be recognized by the State of Israel.

By: World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed his support for the creation of a pluralistic prayer area adjacent to the Western Wall in an address to Diaspora Jews Sunday night at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center.

But while he praised the importance of unity between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, he acknowledged that Israeli politics, which lacks representation of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, does not allow room for state recognition of their rights to administer the pluralistic prayer area.

“The unity of our people is something that is important and transcends daily politics,” Netanyahu said in a speech before the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum conference.

“It’s not always amenable to daily politics, but it’s in our hearts. It’s in my heart. I know that we’re one people. I know that we share a common path and a common destiny,” he said.

“Before anything else, Israel is the home of all Jews. Every Jew should feel at home in Israel. This is our goal. This is our policy,” he said.

“That’s why I hope you’ll visit the pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall. You should visit it. We’re enlarging it. We’re making it accessible, so anybody can pray at the Western Wall,” he said to considerable applause from hundreds of conference-goers hailing from Diaspora communities across the globe.

However, from Netanyahu’s comments, it was clear that he had no intention of reversing a decision to scrap an agreement with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism that would have given them official state recognition, a budget and the power to administer the pluralistic prayer area.

As part of a January 2016 agreement, which the cabinet approved after four years of negotiations, the government committed to renovating the so-called “Ezrat Yisrael” prayer platform physically.

The deal also included the creation of a common entrance to the Western Wall for three prayer areas — the Orthodox men’s and women’s sections and the “Ezrat Yisrael” plaza, where men and women could worship together.

Crucially, the deal also recognized the right of representatives of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism to share in the joint oversight of the pluralistic prayer area.

Six months later, however, in the face of ultra-Orthodox opposition, the cabinet voted to suspend the deal, leading to a bitter crisis in Israel-Diaspora ties, with many representatives of world Jewry saying they felt “betrayed” by the Jewish state.

Netanyahu urged non-Orthodox Jews to feel connected to Israel and the Western Wall regardless.

“Anyone here is welcome. Welcome. Feel free to come here. Feel free to pray,” he said. “When you touch the Wall, know this truth: this is your home. And this will always be the home of every Jew.”