Sharansky, MKs against Shas bill criminalizing pluralist prayer at Western Wall

Heavy criticism was leveled by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharasnky on Monday at Legislation proposed by Shas this week to circumvent the government resolution for pluralist prayer at the Western Wall.

The bill, submitted to the Knesset on Sunday, would criminalize anyone participating in progressive prayer services at the Western Wall, who would be liable to prison sentences and hefty fines.

It is also backed by Likud MKs Oren Hazan, David Amsallem, and Miki Zohar, along with Bayit Yehudi MKs Betzalel Smotrich, Moti Yogev and Nissan Slomiansky.

“This bill makes a mockery of all the efforts made by recent governments to ensure that the Western Wall is a place that unites, rather than divides, the Jewish people,” said Sharansky in a statement to the press.

“This bill's passage would have grave consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Based on the Prime Minister’s strong personal commitment to strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship, it is my fervent hope that this damaging bill will be summarily dismissed by a majority of the coalition and of the Knesset.”

The bill’s definition of the Western Wall includes the southern section where the proposed pluralist prayer section is supposed to be constructed and would therefore totally nullify the government resolution.

Following intense criticism from elements within the Haredi online media and Haredi leaders such as Chief Rabbi David Lau and Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the haredi political leadership backed away from the deal and demanded that the prime minister freeze implementation.

Shas’ new legislation therefore threatens to remove the central bargaining tool of the progressive Jewish movements for the implementation of the agreement, the right of the Women of the Wall to pray in the women’s section of the central Western Wall plaza.

Alongside Sharansky, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office MK Michael Oren and MK Rachel Azaria, both of the Kulanu party, also weighed in against the Shas bill, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement the government resolution.

“This bill is a mortal blow for relations between the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world,” said Oren and Azaria in a joint statement.

“In a week in which Israel is receiving new military jets from the US, partly thanks to the assistance of the Jewish community there, MKs have decided to distance these communities from the State of Israel even further.

“The State of Israel is the home to all Jews, and defines itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people, regardless of the way in which a Jew expresses their Judaism, [so] we must meet the standards we set for ourselves. Jews abroad are dealing on a daily basis with racism and antisemitism because they are Jews, and with threats of boycotts against Israel, and the State of Israel should therefore give them its support and not turn its back on them.”