No progress on gender equality at the Western Wall

After a meeting with Chief of Staff Shlomo Shalom, leaders of the reformed and conservative movements in Israel said they were disappointed by the almost total lack of progress following the Prime Minister’s promises to improve the egalitarian prayer room on the Western Wall.

“In a way, not only was there a step forward, but we even went backwards. It is very disappointing, “said Yizhar Hess, former leader of the Masorti movement and current vice president of the World Zionist Organization (WSO).

Leaders of the reformist and conservative movements in Israel and Women of the Wall, an organization campaigning for greater gender equality at the Western Wall, attended the meeting.

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“The government has not delivered the things we expected, even given the difficulties of the coalition. It is a waste of time, very disappointing,” Hess said. The times of Israel after the meeting.

“We are very disappointed to have been told that nothing had progressed,” said Anna Kislanski, director of the Jewish Reform and Progressive Movement in Israel.

Kislanski’s and Hess’s remarks mark a 180-degree turn compared to those made after a similar meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office earlier this year, which everyone described as most positive and warm.

During this meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explained to reformist and conservative leaders – from Israel and the United States – that the Western Wall compromise would, of course, remain frozen in the short term due to a lack of consensus on the issue in government, making it impossible to pass the necessary legislation. to implement the agreement. However, Bennett had agreed to take a number of concrete steps at least improve the egalitarian prayer room located in the southern part of the wall, known as Robinson’s Arch.

Bennett had decided to provide funding for the development – usually not funded by the government, as opposed to the Western Wall headquarters – and to tighten security to prevent ultra-Orthodox militants from invading the site during equal prayer services, as before.

Participants in Monday’s meeting with Shlomo said nothing had changed on either issue. According to Kislanski, these promises were not followed.

“They did nothing but install two umbrellas,” she said.

‘They are not even capable of keeping ultra-Orthodox extremists away from our space and preventing them from interrupting our prayers in the southern part of the Western Wall. They come in, see that we pray, create mehitzot without asking us, and hold separate prayer services, ”Kislanski explained, using the Hebrew term for the partitions that separate men from women in Orthodox synagogues.

Hess acknowledged that the government’s instability and the difficulties he was currently facing prevented the implementation of the compromise, which would have given non-Orthodox streams of Judaism representation on a Western Wall board and funding for Robinson’s Ark prayer room.

“The government is not able to implement the full compromise – it is one thing. But he could do other important things, ”he added. For example, the government could repair the balconies that make up the egalitarian prayer room and have it reopened next to the Western Wall.

Prayer at the Western Wall’s pluralistic prayer pavilion, 17 July 2014. (Gershon Elinson / Flash90)

“For three years we have not been able to touch the Western Wall [depuis l’espace de prière égalitaire]. There is no access to the west wall from this room because the balcony is blocked. There is talk of an ‘egalitarian west wall’, but there is no wall! “, he regretted.

Hess added that despite the “disappointment and frustration” he did not resent the chief of staff.

“They made sure to give us explanations and show that they had done certain things. They are good people. Everyone was good-natured, polite, ”he concluded.

Kislanski spoke of the return of visitors and tourists to Israel – including non-Orthodox Jews – to a country that has reopened its borders after two years of restrictions due to the pandemic.

“Tourism and bar and bat Mitzvah ceremonies [à l’espace de prière égalitaire] resumed, ”she said.

Although he no longer officially leads Israel’s conservative movement, Hess remains deeply involved and has warned that “the government is dragging its feet” on the Western Wall will have a negative effect on Israel’s ties to the diaspora.

“This is a government that we have high hopes for and that I still have high hopes for. If this kind of government does not know how to resolve the issue of divisions between Israel and the diaspora, which government will then? It is a difficult conclusion, and that is why our disappointment is so strong, ”Hess concluded.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the meeting.

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