'Underhanded and Sneaky': Israeli Lawmaker Demands Investigation After Netanyahu Backtracks on Western Wall

Opposition lawmaker claims that ministers were not adequately prepared for the vote, and the attorney general himself, who oversaw the compromise, was absent

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Marc Israel Sellem

The Israeli attorney general’s office was asked to investigate on Monday whether a controversial cabinet decision to block plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was passed in violation of accepted procedures.

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In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, opposition lawmaker Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) noted that the proposal to suspend the decision to create a mixed-gender prayer space at the Jewish holy site never appeared on the agenda for the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. For that reason, he noted, the ministers were not fully prepared when they were asked to vote on the move.

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Moreover, Stern wrote, the attorney general was not even present at the meeting to weigh in. Before being appointed attorney general, Mendelblit served as cabinet secretary and oversaw the negotiations that led to the agreement on the prayer space in this capacity. The agreement had been approved by the government in January 2016 but never implemented.

The Israeli government's bylaws allow the prime minister to exercise his judgment and bring urgent issues up for a vote in the cabinet, even if they are not included in the weekly agenda. In his letter, Stern asks the attorney general if the mixed prayer space deal at the Kotel, as the Western Wall is known in Hebrew, qualifies as such an issue.

“I would ask your honor to investigate why the prime minister exercised his authority on this controversial matter, especially at a time when the heads of the Jewish federations from the United States are all congregated in Israel for the Jewish Agency board of governors meeting,” he wrote. “The cancellation of the Kotel deal is causing a major crisis between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, and a decision like this, taken in such an underhanded and sneaky manner, away from the public eye and with the ministers unable to prepare themselves properly, casts a heavy shadow over it.”