Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex prayer site at Western Wall | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 25.06.2017
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Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex prayer site at Western Wall

The Israeli cabinet nixed a plan it approved nearly 18 months ago that would have allowed men and women to pray together at the Western Wall. The reversal appears to be a victory for the country's ultra-Orthodox sect.

The Israeli government has changed course on its pledge to open a mixed-gender prayer area Jerusalem's Western Wall - the holiest site where Jews can pray.

The move angered those who had spent years fighting for the creation of a third zone where men and women could pray together while still maintaining prayer areas separated by gender.

Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, which has tried for years to change the arcane rules called it "a terrible day for women in Israel when the PM sacrifices their rights while kowtowing to a handful of religious extremists."

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The Israeli Cabinet approved the plan in January 2016 - voting 15-5 over the objections of the ultra-Orthodox members of the government. Sunday's decision appears to reinforce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strong ties with the ultra-Orthodox members of his governing coalition.

Ultra-Orthodox coalition members Shas and United Torah Judaism said the decision to freeze the plan "reflects the will of most of the nation that seeks to safeguard the Western Wall's sanctity and status."

The move is likely to further strain Netanyahu's relations with Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, though how much he may regret that remains to be seen.

Cabinet votes to reverse itself

The cabinet voted to formally freeze the plan during its weekly meeting on Sunday, and Netanyahu called on a minister from his Likud Party to formulate a new proposal, although the parties admit that today's vote represents a "de-facto cancellation of the plan."

Yigal Palmor, a former spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and now the director of public affairs at the Jewish Agency for Israel, tweeted the disappointment of the agency's chairman Natan Sharansky.

The agency is a key outreach group to Jewish communities abroad. Sharansky slammed the government for backing out of the agreement.

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Prayers removed from Israel's Western Wall

"Today's decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world together increasingly more difficult," he said.

The new vote was welcomed by Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, which he described as a correction to the previously "mistaken" decision. 

The mixed-gender section was to have been located at a separate expanse of the wall that, when seen from the plaza looking towards the wall, stands to the right of the current Orthodox-administered compound.

Currently, the wall is officially administered by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, but the new section would have been managed by a Conservative or Reform rabbi.

bik/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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