Netanyahu Tells U.S. Jews He's Committed to Solving Western Wall Crisis

'It's complicated,' prime minister says, calling for 'quiet diplomacy among Jews' for deal to be struck.

Rabbis from different streams of Judaism and Women of the Wall carry Torah scrolls at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, November 2, 2016.
Rabbis from different streams of Judaism and Women of the Wall carry Torah scrolls at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, November 2, 2016. Michal Fattal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday tried to calm nerves among liberal Jews in the United States regarding the Western Wall compromise.

In a speech he gave by satellite to the General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America, Netanyahu said that government policy to find an agreement that would allow prayer by all streams of Judaism at the Western Wall remained unchanged. Netanyahu explained that despite the fact that a decision on the issue was approved by the government, it has been difficult politically to implement it. 

"The government here doesn't exactly work the same was as in the U.S.," said Netanyahu. He brought as an example the gas deal, and said that despite the fact that the government approved it there were major problems in passing the gas through Knesset, and there was a need afterward to find a compromise.

Work needs to be done in finding a compromise on the Western Wall prayer deal, too, Netanyahu said, even after the government decision. "It is not simple. It is complicated," he said. "We need quiet diplomacy among Jews. This is what is more likely to achieve the result we all want."

Women put on tefillin at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 2, 2016.
Emil Salman

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, said he welcomed the prime minister's commitment to the Western Wall deal, but also expressed frustration with Netanyahu’s bid for more time.

"[W]hat is needed at this point is leadership and action, and not quiet diplomacy," he countered. "After four years of quiet diplomacy, the time has come to state clearly toward the Haredi parties that there is a limit to the damage they can cause to relations among Jews."

He added: "Quiet diplomacy cannot continue at a time when a wild incitement campaign is being waged against millions of Jews, led byministers and Knesset members, and at a time when the government enacts legislation, such as the Mikveh law, against the non-Orthodox streams. WE call on the prime minister to move immediately to implement the government decision, which reflects the interests of the Jewish people and Israel. The vast majority of the Israeli public and Jewish Diaspora support this step and expect its implementation."

Netanyahu gave his speech a day after receiving a letter from Federation heads protesting the government's foot dragging in implementing the prayer deal. The letter arrived in the wake of a protest march by Reform and Conservative rabbis to the Western Wall two weeks ago. After disturbances at the Western Wall occurred during the march, Netanyahu issued a statement in which he blamed Reform and Conservative Jews of unilaterally breaking the status quo at the Western Wall.