Second government minister resigns from committee to decide on egalitarian prayer section at Western Wall

People praying at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, Jan. 17, 2017. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

JTA

JERUSALEM (JTA) —  A second Israeli government minister has resigned from the Knesset committee whose approval is needed to advance the plan for the Western Wall’s egalitarian section.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to allow her to resign from the Knesset Committee for Holy Places.

Her resignation follows that of committee chairwoman Miri Regev, who said on Thursday that she had “decided to be faithful to my conscience” and vote in favor of the plan. The chair’s permission is necessary to advance the plan. Netanyahu, who is pushing the plan, took Regev’s place as head of the committee.

Shaked reportedly had received a letter signed by 300 rabbis asking her to not vote in favor of the plan.

Later on Sunday, Netanyahu replaced Shaked on the committee with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz of the Likud Party.

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“I think this is the right thing to do. This is in continuation to my previous opposition to the cancellation of the Western Wall plan and to the unnecessary harm to millions of Reform and Conservative Jews,” Steinitz told the Israeli daily Maariv.

Regev reportedly said Sunday during the Cabinet meeting: I’ve met reforms in Argentina. They were very nice, but they should be reform in Argentina. Here in Israel they should behave” as Israel expects them to.

The third member of the committee is Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of the Separdic Orthodox Shas Party, who will vote against the plan.

Plans to renovate the site, with a budget of more than $7 million, have continued, despite the suspension of a comprehensive plan approved in 2016.

In June 2017, the Cabinet suspended the deal as a result of negotiations between the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. The suspension came after the government’s haredi Orthodox coalition partners pressured Netanyahu to scrap the agreement, including threatening to bring down the government.

The plan would have included a common entrance to the Western Wall plaza for all three sections and a public board to oversee the egalitarian prayer space and would include representatives of the non-Orthodox movements and Women of the Wall.

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