(July 2, 2018 / Israel Hayom) The saga surrounding the proposed establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall took another turn as ministers voted by phone late Sunday night on a new panel for the Ministerial Committee on Holy Places.
Loath to address the political hot potato, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked resigned from the committee earlier in the day. Shaked’s departure followed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s removal of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev from the committee last week over her refusal to support his plan for an expanded plaza for non-Orthodox and nontraditional prayer.
Netanyahu on Sunday criticized the ministers who have refused to support his move to create the egalitarian prayer space, saying, “I’ll handle this.”
The Knesset must now approve the ministerial committee’s new members in a vote scheduled for Monday. Only then can the new panel give the green light to continue building the prayer space at the Western Wall.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has assumed Miri Regev’s role as head of the ministerial committee, while Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz agreed to fill the vacuum created by Shaked’s resignation from the committee.
The Ministerial Committee on Holy Places is tasked with facilitating a planned expansion of the mixed-gender prayer plaza at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox worshippers to be located several dozen yards from the familiar plaza.
Shaked and Regev had recently come under pressure by opponents of the plan, who include haredi and religious Zionist rabbis, as well as some archaeologists, whose objection is rooted in considerations of historic preservation.
“Approval of the plan is a necessary step,” said the prime minister. “An agreement has been in place for 20 years. Now it is being settled. The justice minister said she can’t vote [in favor of the egalitarian expansion]. I’m prepared to take the responsibility. I understand that Gila [Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel] is prepared. Anyone willing to join will be most welcome.”
Officials close to Netanyahu stressed that if the expansion plan isn’t approved, the High Court of Justice will force the state to allow non-Orthodox worshippers to pray according to their own traditions at the main Western Wall plaza; hence, the plan’s detractors have an interest in allowing it.
According to the agreement between Netanyahu and Regev, after the construction plan is approved the culture and sports minister will return to chair the Ministerial Committee on Holy Places.