Hundreds Protest Government's Backtrack on Western Wall Outside Netanyahu's Residence

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Protesters outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. Signs read: "Bibi I'm a Jew too."
Protesters outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. Signs read: "Bibi I'm a Jew too."Credit: Olivieh Fitoussi

Hundreds of Reform and Conservative Jews staged a protest near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in light of the crisis with the American Jewish community following the government’s decisions to abolish the compromise on egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, and to move ahead the controversial conversion law.

Protesters carried signs reading: "Bibi don't divide the Jewish people" and "Judaism without coercion."

At the beginning of the rally, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement, said: “Thousands of men and women have come this evening to say enough with religious coercion and contempt for Reform and Conservative Jews. The prime minister will find out in the coming weeks that contempt is not possible in the cry that rises from the Israeli street and from the Jewish communities. We will not permit a Haredi monopoly on conversion and we will not give up on implementation of the Western Wall plan.”

Attorney Yizhar Hess, director of the Conservative movement, said: “The cancelling of the Western Wall agreement, the new conversion law, are floating over us like a black cloud polluting the ability of the State of Israel to call itself the nation state of the Jewish people. I call on all to whose hearts democracy and the Jewish people are close to come tonight to the prime minister’s home and cry out with us.” 

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, said at the rally: “This is the time for women to wake up and secular people to wake up and of all religious people like us who believe in giving space to all men and all women. To believing women and women who believe in equality – we must wake up because today it’s the Western Wall plan and tomorrow it’s anything else. The paratroopers who liberated the wall call the Women of the Wall fighters. Courageous. They support our struggle. They say they liberated the wall for everyone,” Hoffman said.

Protesters outside Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Protesters light candles as they rally outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Protesters outside Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Last Sunday, the cabinet voted to suspend plans to build a new egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, where Reform and Conservative Jews could hold mixed prayer services. Later in the day, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to move ahead with a bill that would deny the validity of conversions to Judaism undertaken in Israel outside the state-sanctioned Orthodox system. 

Both decisions were made under pressure from Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. Both were meant to avoid Supreme Court rulings in favor of the non-Orthodox movements in two pending cases.

The nixed prayer space plan, approved in 2016, was never been executed because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox members of the ruling coalition. In September, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, along with Women of the Wall, petitioned the Supreme Court  to force the government to fulfill its commitment, or alternatively, re-divide the existing gender-segregated prayer plazas to make room for them.

As per last Sunday's decision, construction work on a mixed prayer space will continue, but Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman will begin talks over a new plan that would be acceptable to the ultra-Orthodox parties.