Israeli diplomats in US reportedly ordered to blame liberal Jews for Western Wall crisis

(JTA) – Israeli diplomats in North America rejected a talking point handed down to them from Jerusalem, which they told an Israeli daily blames liberal Jews for the Western Wall controversy.

The top diplomats refused to repeat the narrative that Jonathan Shechter, a top adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, handed down to them earlier this week in telephone conversations about the crisis in relations between the government and leaders of the Reform and other liberal Jewish denominations in the United States, Maariv reported Friday.

The Prime Minister’s Office flatly denied the report in a statement to JTA, saying that “the conversation did not occur as depicted in the article.”

The crisis between the Israeli government and diaspora groups erupted following the Cabinet’s decision Sunday to suspend the implementation of a compromise on the contested issue of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall plaza. Under the compromise, the government had voted to expand the southern section of the holy site, which is used for egalitarian prayer, open an entrance to it from the main Western Wall plaza and appoint an interdenominational commission to oversee it.

Run by haredi Orthodox rabbis, the main plaza of the Western Wall features separate spaces for men and women. In Reform and Conservative congregations, prayers are held conjointly.

Schechter’s directive was given orally, according to the Maariv report, which did not detail the language that Shechter had reportedly asked the diplomats to use. One ambassador reportedly said he would comply with the directive only if Jerusalem transmits the talking point in writing.

A diplomat who was not named in the Maariv article told the newspaper: “It defies belief that after everything that’s happened, the prime minister’s staff are seeking to blame U.S. Jews, who were deeply offended by the government decisions, for the situation.”

In fending off scathing criticism by many American Jewish organizations and individuals over the suspension, an Israeli government official downplayed the move’s significance, underlining the fact that anyone who wishes to pray according to Conservative or Reform custom is able to do so today at the Western Wall regardless of the compromise.

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