Western Wall Crisis: Bid to Force Government to Make Good on Egalitarian Prayer Space Shot Down in Knesset

Bill aimed to give government decision on the Kotel, suspended last week, the force of law: 'These decisions tear to shreds both the covenant between Israel and Jewish people'

Visitors are seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on June 26, 2017.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

A bill that would have forced the government to carry out its plan to build a new and permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was defeated in a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Forty-four Knesset members, all members of the governing coalition, voted against the bill, while only 24 lawmakers raised their hands in favor. The bill, introduced by MK Nachman Shai of the oppositionist Zionist Union, aimed to give the government decision, suspended last week, the force of law.

Because it was not sponsored by the government, but rather by an individual Knesset member, the bill required a preliminary vote in the plenum as a condition for moving on to committee for further discussion.

Responding to the vote, Shai, who serves as co-chairman of the parliamentary caucus responsible for strengthening Israel’s ties with Jewish communities abroad, said: “There is nothing new under the sun. The government has chosen through tactics of stall and delay to deal with the Kotel agreement.

"These last two decisions tear to shreds both the written and unwritten covenant between Israel and the Jewish people and prove that this government prefers narrow political considerations over its long-term and historic connection to the Jewish people,” he added.

The government’s reversal of its commitment to build a new prayer plaza at the Western Wall has sparked an unprecedented crisis with Diaspora Jewry. After the decision was announced, the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which was convening in Jerusalem, cancelled a dinner that had been scheduled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in protest. A delegation of leaders from the Reform movement also cancelled a meeting that had been planned with the prime minister.

The government had approved the plan for an egalitarian space in January 2016, following three years of negotiations. The plan was never implemented, however, because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties that sit in the government.