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 seemed to voice support for expanding an egalitarian prayer section along 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 told 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.

The premier had no intention, however, 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.

From the point of view of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism — Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or other — one of the highlights of the deal was recognition anchored in law of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism to receive state funds and to administer a state site.

Netanyahu backtracked on the original arrangement, which had been passed by the cabinet after ultra-Orthodox opposition to the deal. Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, which represent the largest number of American Jews said they felt they had been betrayed by the Israeli government.

Netanyahu told non-Orthodox Jews that they could still foster a connection to Israel and to Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, which is a retaining wall for the Temple Mount where the ancient temple of the Jewish people was located.

“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.”