The following statement was issued on Thursday, August 31, by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, updating the community on recent actions by the Israeli government that impact pluralism and conversion. For background, read Federation Values Pluralism and Doubling Down on What Matters.
Following a hearing early today Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered the Government to explain its unilateral decision to freeze the Kotel agreement, which the Government itself had achieved through negotiations in good faith with all parties. The Government has two weeks to respond to the Court’s demand.
The Court focused extensively this morning on the question of whether or not the Government has honored an earlier ruling handed down over ten years ago regarding the rights of the Women of the Wall to pray according to their beliefs at the Kotel. That ruling determined that they have a right to pray at the Western Wall according to their custom, but these rights would be realized at the Robinson’s Arch area (not at the traditional Kotel Plaza). This decision required the State to build a respectable and appropriate prayer site to the satisfaction of the parties within twelve months.
Predictably, there was no consensus among these parties regarding whether or not the Government actually satisfied the Court’s earlier ruling by building the prayer area at Robinson’s Arch, albeit following a major delay. At this morning’s hearing it appeared as if the Court was trying to gauge whether the petitioners currently have a right to pray at the traditional Northern Kotel Plaza, or if their rights apply only to the Robinson’s Arch site. The Court also raised the question as to whether there are legal grounds for enforcing the compromise reached by the Government and the petitioners, which was adopted as a government resolution in January 2016 (the Kotel agreement), and then suspended this past June.
In requiring the Government to explain its decision to freeze the Kotel agreement, the Court validated the tremendous investment that has been made in finding a thoughtful and negotiated resolution to the complex issues and competing worldviews regarding prayer at the Western Wall. It is critical that our community continues to speak out on the importance of ensuring a place for every Jew at the Kotel as the Government prepares its response and the Court deliberates further.
Given that there are four different petitions from parties with varying interests related to the Kotel, the Court has indicated that it may issue a series of decisions rather than a single overarching ruling.