Last week the Israeli government reneged on its pledge to implement an agreement to open a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall.
The agreement for a pluralist Kotel has a long history. After three years of negotiations, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government agreed to open a new area at the Kotel adjacent to the main plaza for all expressions of Judaism. Just a year later, after pressure from Ultra-Orthodox parties, Netanyahu froze the agreement.
For decades, NIF has been working on this and other issues of religious pluralism, strengthening partners like the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).
Since that initial agreement with Netanyahu, IRAC has done well to keep the issue on the agenda – in Israeli politics, in Israeli and Diaspora media, and through the courts – so much so that implementing the agreement was a component of the coalition agreement signed by the new Bennett-Lapid government in June.
Shamefully, after renewed incitement and hatred from right-wing and Orthodox groups lobbying against the deal, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana are freezing the agreement once more. Kahana claims he’s pausing the deal so as not to “play into their hands”.
But we know the opposite is true. These right-wing and Orthodox groups are getting exactly what they want with the government’s announcement that it's freezing the deal.
Instead of being a unifying space where all Jewish expressions have the opportunity to pray and practise in a way that is meaningful to them, they would rather have the Western Wall remain under the purview of Ultra-Orthodox rabbis.
NIF’s mission is to develop the partnership between Israelis and Diaspora Jews to achieve equality and justice for all – whether they’re Reform, Conservative or secular Jews, Palestinians, Ethiopian Jews or LGBT Jews.
If you are frustrated and concerned about this development, NIF is the home for you. Together we’ll continue to seek progress on this issue and countless others as we stand up for the equal and just Israel we want to see.
Let’s hope that, thanks to the work of NIF, IRAC and other organisations on the ground, we will see positive movement on this issue soon.