US reaffirms support for upgrading egalitarian prayer space at Western Wall
A 2016 agreement to upgrade the space has still not been implemented
U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, who is currently visiting Israel, posted on social media that the United States supports the implementation of an upgraded egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
I visited the Western Wall for the first time today and met with Rabbi of the Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz. I reiterated U.S. support for implementation of the 2016 Western Wall agreement to expand the egalitarian space at the Wall. pic.twitter.com/BQXKrVlaTr— U.S. Ambassador at Large Rashad Hussain (@IRF_Ambassador) April 16, 2023
In 2016, the Israeli government, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, approved a decision to upgrade a section of the Western Wall set apart for egalitarian prayer, a provision made for non-Orthodox Jews pushing for the move. In the following year, Netanyahu put the plan on hold, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox groups. At the time, Netanyahu said the delay was only temporary.
Israel’s High Court of Justice, in July 2017, set a deadline for the government to respond to a petition on its failure to implement the agreement. Netanyahu’s decision was widely criticized by non-Orthodox groups, some government coalition partners and the Jewish Agency.
In 2018, after stones fell into the egalitarian section blocking access to the Western Wall, Netanyahu again promised to upgrade the egalitarian prayer section to make it more suitable for prayer. The renovations have not been carried out. Conservative members of the religious Zionist sector have repeatedly lobbied against the renovations.
In February, the coalition told the High Court of Justice that it still intends to implement the 2016 agreement. The government said it is waiting for planning permission from the Jerusalem municipality.
Orly Erez-Likhovski of the Israel Religious Action Center issued a statement saying, “There has been no access to the stones of the Western Wall for five years, and unlike the massive budget that the gender-segregated plaza receives, the government does not at all fund the egalitarian section.”
The statement by Hussain marks the first time the Biden administration has directly addressed the issue of egalitarian provisions at the Western Wall and shows an increased willingness on the part of the administration to be critical of Israel’s internal political issues.
Recently, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party advanced a bill that proposed making it illegal for the Women of the Wall group to hold a monthly prayer service at the women’s section of the Western Wall. That bill was retracted after Netanyahu called for it to be shelved.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.