The backlash against the proposed changes to the Kotel Plaza continued on Sunday after a planned meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Chief Rabbis was cancelled.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) toured the Kotel Plaza on Sunday, absenting himself from the coalition’s weekly meeting.
Ariel, who on Friday condemned the planned Kotel Plaza reforms, visited the disputed southern section of the plaza with a delegation of rabbis and a member of the Jerusalem city council.
At the heart of the dispute is a small non-denominational mixed-gender prayer section at the southern end of the Kotel. The contentious reform plan would expand the southern prayer section, and, most controversially, removed authority over the southern plaza from the Israeli rabbinate
Opponents of the proposed changes object to what they decry as government recognition of the Reform movement, a violation of the Status Quo agreements which have dictated policy on religion-and-state since the founding of the state.
Ariel emphasized the changes to the Status Quo were unacceptable. Even if technical changes were made in the physical arrangement of the Kotel Plaza, the government must not grant the Reform movement recognition, he argued.
“This is not acceptable,” he said, pointing to the southern prayer section, “and I don’t want to use any more harsh rhetoric than that.”
“What’s proper and suitable is for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to be the one responsible for enforcing the law [here],” said Ariel.
Pointing to Netanyahu’s apparent capitulation Saturday night, Ariel claimed that no substantive changes could be forced through without proper discussion and compromise.
“The postponing of the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Chief Rabbis proves that there is time for dialogue. We’re going to stand firm on the Status Quo and the authority of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, and of course on the Western Wall.”
Ariel noted that the opposition to the proposed reforms was not directed at physical changes in the plaza per se, but against recognition of the Reform movement.
“The physical changes have already been made; the debate is over whether the government should or should not recognize the Reform movement’s standing in Israel. They’re trying to [gain recognition] in granting marriages as well, along with kosher certification and other things. That’s what we object to, this clear violation of the Status Quo.”
At the end of the tour, Ariel pledged his full cooperation with haredi parties on this matter.
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) has also signaled his support for efforts by haredi factions to prevent the planned reforms from being implemented.