(June 28, 2018 / Israel Hayom) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday removed Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev from her position as head of the Ministerial Committee for Holy Places in an effort to facilitate a planned expansion of the mixed-gender prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which Regev opposes.
The expansion is part of Israel’s attempt to resolve the deep dispute between the government and non-Orthodox streams of U.S. Jewry over the issue of mixed-gender prayer at the holy site. The dispute was triggered by the government’s decision to cancel a plan to build a new egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall.
Regev had refused to convene the committee to discuss the expansion plans, saying her “conscience would not allow” her to do so.
“In the last few months, I have been thinking it over, but my conscience would not allow me to do it,” she posted on Facebook.
“I could not confirm the Western Wall plan in a manner that would have harmed the world order. The Reform Jews’ demand to turn the Western Wall into a place where women and men pray together is unacceptable to me and to the heritage of the people of Israel.
“I decided to be loyal to my conscience. Therefore, I informed the prime minister that I do not intend to approve the Western Wall plan by virtue of my authority as head of the Committee for Holy Places. Everyone is allowed to visit the Western Wall and pray there as long as they respect the site and its heritage. We did not return to the holiest of our sites in order to desecrate it. I have faith and hope that we will preserve and honor the sanctity of the Western Wall.”
Sources at the Culture and Sports Ministry said Netanyahu had discussed the move with Regev in advance, and she had agreed to the change.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Religious Services Minister David Azoulay (Shas) are also members of the Ministerial Committee for Holy Places; it remains unclear whether Netanyahu plans to tap one of them to oversee the expansion plans.