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Netanyahu scraps Western Wall bill: ‘The status quo will remain as it is today’

Shas also distanced itself from the proposal, saying it never intended to criminalize improper attire or musical instruments at the holy site.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas leader Aryeh Deri during a Shas Party meeting at the Knesset, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas leader Aryeh Deri during a Shas Party meeting at the Knesset, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a controversial Shas Party bill to criminalize “inappropriate behavior” at the Western Wall will not be taken up by his government.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, the prime minister addressed the outpouring of criticism regarding the proposed law: “I read this morning the headlines about the Kotel [Western Wall]. I would like to calm things down and clarify: The status quo of the Western Wall, which is dear to all the Jewish people, will remain exactly as it is today.

“I spoke with my colleagues in the coalition [who agreed] that the bill we’re talking about won’t be put up [for a vote] at this time and, if it had been put up, it wouldn’t include the sections on criminal trespasses regarding clothing or musical instruments. Those sections were written 40 years ago and they’re not acceptable to anyone. Therefore, the Kotel will remain exactly as it is today,” Netanyahu said.

The Shas Party also distanced itself from the proposed law, “We welcome the prime minister’s announcement that the status quo at the Western Wall will be maintained, as it was until today. The Wall does not need any law,” the party said in a statement.

Shas said it had only introduced the legislation due to a requirement by the High Court that wouldn’t accept a delay in the state’s response to petitions concerning the recognition of an egalitarian prayer space and mixed-gender prayer in the main plaza.

“After the prime minister informed the heads of the political parties today that he intends to submit a response that means postponing the debate, we agreed to withdraw the bill,” Shas said.

“Shas never intended to impose criminal penalties on clothing or musical instruments at the Western Wall. This is cheap demagoguery. These sections are a copy of the Western Wall regulations from 1980 and they would have been removed by the committee [before a final law on the bill]. Every sane person understands this,” the party added.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation, a coalition committee that decides whether a bill will receive government backing, had been scheduled to debate the Shas proposal on Sunday.

The legislation defined inappropriate behavior as conducting mixed prayer (men and women together), playing a musical instrument, inappropriate clothing, and smoking.

Anyone who violated one of the sections would have received a six-month prison sentence or been required to pay a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,800).

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