Supreme Court president quizzes government over frozen Western Wall prayer plan

Israel’s supreme court warned Thursday it could push for the government to implement a stalled deal allowing men and women to pray together at a revered Jewish holy site in Jerusalem.

In January last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing government agreed after a long campaign by reform movements to allow mixed worship at a section of east Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray because of a status quo agreement not to allow worship on the Temple Mount.

But under pressure from ultra-Orthodox political paries, whose support is vital for the government’s slender parliamentary majority, Netanyahu in June froze implementation of the scheme.

The result was a wave of anger from the influential American Jewish community, the majority of whom follow more liberal strands of Judaism.

“There was a deal, people worked on it, and then the government comes and says it doesn’t exist. This raises some questions,” Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said to the state’s lawyer in a hearing on Thursday, local media reported.

Noting that the laboriously negotiated deal was “accepted, agreed upon, respectful and appropriate,” she expressed confusion as to why the government suddenly froze it.

A tense atmosphere prevailed in the packed Jerusalem courtroom and Naor, who acknowledged the topic is an “emotional” issue frequently cut short what she described as “lectures” from the parties.

Hila Perl, a spokeswoman for “Women of the Wall”, one of the groups petitioning the supreme court for the agreement to be honoured, told AFP that she expects it to shortly set a 30- to 60-day deadline for the government to unfreeze the plan or to defend its refusal in court.

The Israel Religious Action Centre, representing the reform movement, said the judges sent the government an unequivocal message about the Orthodox monopoly on religious practice at the wall, known in Hebrew as the kotel.

“The court spoke loud and clear stating that the current…

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