Netanyahu Urges Diaspora Jews Not to Protest Western Wall Stalemate

Prime minister urges 'patience' hours before top U.S. rabbis will try to march on Western Wall to protest Israel's inaction on egalitarian prayer space: 'We don't need friction'

Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday urged diaspora Jews to abstain from protests over the stalemate on a new Western Wall prayer space intended for men and women.

His comments came as a group of prominent American Conservative and Reform rabbis prepared to lead a procession at 6:30 A.M. on Wednesday to protest the governments failure to deliver on its promise to provide them with a egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

Addressing the Jewish Agency's board, Netanyahu called on world Jews to show patience and tolerance. 

"We have one people and one wall — it's our wall," he said. "The less publicly we talk about it, the better chance we have to resolve it. The last thing we need is more friction, as that will make a solution more difficult."

Two Reform Jews pray at a gender-equal prayer service at the Western Wall, february 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The rabbis plan to carry Torah scrolls with them as they march from Dung Gate to the Western Wall, where they are likely to be stopped by security officials. Regulations at the Jewish holy site prohibit worshippers from bringing their own Torah scrolls to the premises.

The rabbis may attempt to resist security officials and push their way through in order to draw public attention to their cause.

The demonstration is scheduled to coincide with the monthly prayer service held by Women of the Wall, the multidenominational feminist prayer group, at the Jewish holy site. 

Women of the Wall members pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City.
Olivier Fitoussi

Women of the Wall activists, as well as dozens of their supporters, plan to join the rabbis on their march. 

We anticipate that the sight of hundreds of Jews prevented from reaching the Western Wall will move the prime minister to action, said Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall. 

He is a hairbreadth away from a historic solution to the conflict at the Western Wall. It boggles the mind that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who decries any international attempt to delegitimize our historic ties to the Western Wall, stands between world Jewry and an equitable arrangement guaranteeing every Jew the right to pray freely.

Leading the protest will be Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive officer of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. 

In January, the government voted to create a new section at the southern part of the Western Wall – near the area known as Robinsons Arch – where members of the non-Orthodox movements could hold egalitarian prayer services. The deal was struck following three years of negotiations. However, under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Netanyahu has refrained from implementing it.