November 16, 2018

Rep. Brad Sherman denounces Israel suspending Western Wall plan

In a telephonic town hall on Thursday, Congressman Brad Sherman denounced the Israeli government’s decision to suspend a plan to create a mixed prayer space at the Western Wall.

Responding to a Journal reporter’s question about the Israeli government’s decision, Sherman, who is Jewish, attributed the Israeli government’s decision, which was announced this past Sunday and has sparked outrage in the non-Orthodox world, to politics.

“For what appears to be political reasons the government of Israel has reneged on the agreement to create a place at the Western Wall where Reform and Conservative Jews can pray in the manner they’re used to praying,” he said.

Journal columnist Shmuel Rosner has written about the issue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a compromise in January 2016 to formalize a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall. Egalitarian prayer – where men and women pray together, and women are allowed to read from a prayer book and a Torah scroll — already takes place at a southern part of the Western Wall known as Robinson’s Arch. The agreement would have created a entrance to the Western Wall for all of the denominations and placed the holy site under pluralistic oversight.

Since the approval of the plan, the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel have worked to delay the implementation of the agreement. The Diaspora community, represented by organizations such as Jewish Federations of North America, Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, have expressed disappointment with the Israeli government in the wake of the suspension.

Sherman, for his part, predicted Israel’s decision to suspend the agreement will damage Israel’s security.

“It shows Israel … kowtow[ing] to a few and to the extreme right of the religious spectrum. The government of Israel [with this decision]… cuts Israel off from Jewish-Americans and I think that’s a huge mistake,” he said. “I think long term that estrangement or even elements of estrangement is a threat to Israel’s security.”

Sizable chunks of American Jews identify as Reform and Conservative.