Likud offers deal to nix prayer at Western Wall

Women of the "Women of the Wall" organization dance with the torah scroll as they attend their monthly prayer services at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, on April 20, 2015. Today marks the first time, since the group was founded 25 years ago, that they read from a full-size Torah scroll at the Western Wall, in violation of regulations at the holy site. A group of male supporters of the feminist prayer group opened a gap in the barrier separating the men’s prayer section from the women’s, at the Western Wall, and passed the Torah scroll over to representatives on the women's side. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

(JTA) — A Likud lawmaker close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to prevent egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in exchange for a small ultranationalist faction dropping out ahead of this month’s Knesset election.

The move would anger non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, for whom the right to pray at the wall as they see fit is a major bone of contention with Israel.

According to an Israeli news site, Miki Zohar made the promise during talks with the Noam Party, a small religious Zionist faction primarily known in Israel for its unwavering opposition to gay rights. The party has not been doing well in the polls and is expected to fall well below the electoral threshold necessary to enter the Knesset. Netanyahu and the Likud have been pushing members of the national camp not to support smaller parties in order not to “waste” votes.

According to the report, Zohar also offered to enact more stringent conversion policies. While Zohar told the Israeli news outlet that Netanyahu had approved of his outreach, a Likud spokesperson said that “there will be no change in conversion laws, and nobody will cancel the egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall.”

In 2017, the government pulled out of a 2016 agreement to expand the holy site’s southern section, used for egalitarian prayer, and appoint an interdenominational commission to oversee it.

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