First Published: 2017-09-20

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall
Supreme court warns Israeli PM to reconsider freezing agreement that allows men, women to pray together at holy site but Netanyahu brushes aside calls amid pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.
Middle East Online

Israeli NGOs asked court to compel the government to honour the agreement

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brushed aside a supreme court warning over his refusal to implement a deal allowing women and men to pray together at Jerusalem's Western Wall.

A justice ministry statement issued Tuesday said the state attorney's office had informed the court that Netanyahu was sticking to his decision to freeze the January 2016 agreement, arguing it was non-binding and subject to government policy needs.

Netanyahu's right-wing government had agreed after a long campaign by reform Jewish groups to allow mixed worship at a section of east Jerusalem's Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.

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

The freeze angered the influential American Jewish community, the majority of whom follow more liberal strands of Judaism.

Israeli NGOs filed suit with the supreme court asking that it compel the government to honour the agreement and last month the court asked the government to reconsider the freeze.

"If the answer is in the negative," the court wrote at the time, the state should address the question "if the possibility exists in law to compel the government to implement the agreement."

The government's written response said "no" on both points.

It said Netanyahu "considered all the circumstances of the matter and decided not to bring the issue of the Western Wall to further discussion before the cabinet", the justice ministry statement said.

It added that the government also said the court could not force it to act.

"The issue is absolutely one of policy, the complexity and sensitivity of which does not need to be enlarged upon," it quoted the state attorney's office as writing.

"The government, by the nature of things, has broad discretion in the manner of resolving this issue," the government response added, asking the judges to throw out the lawsuit.

"In these circumstances," it went on, "there was no flaw in the decision of the government of Israel to order the suspension."

The Jerusalem Post daily said on Wednesday that the court was expected to rule by January.

In accordance with strict ultra-Orthodox tradition, there are currently separate prayer sections for women and men at the wall, one of the last remnants of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD.

Women are also barred from leading prayers or bringing in Torah scrolls, and activists have for years been campaigning for equal prayer rights.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population.

 

Iraq takes control of two key Kirkuk oil fields

New UN envoy in Rabat to restart talks on WSahara

Hollande slams Trump's hardline stance on Iran nuclear deal

Mogadishu twin bomb death toll at 276

Lebanon promotes ‘back to public school’ drive

Netanyahu presses Russian defence minister on Iran

US-backed forces retake Raqa state hospital

Divided Iraq tests limited US influence

Iraqi forces seize Kirkuk governor's office

Iraqi forces seize airport, oil field from Kurds

Saudi Arabia sets conditions to role in Syria reconstruction

In tougher approach, US offers multimillion-dollar reward for Hezbollah operatives

EU ministers join forces in support of Iran deal

Batteries, tape to thank for defeating jihadists in Raqa

Palestinian Authority top official visits Gaza

Israel strikes Syrian anti-aircraft battery in response to shots

Qatar starts to feel pinch from sanctions

Last days of Raqa battles ‘toughest fighting yet’

Omani role has helped Iran but may not do much in crisis with US

Head of IS in Southeast Asia dead

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

US-backed forces announce ‘final phase’ of Raqa recapture

Suspicion of football corruption shows limits of Qatar’s ‘soft power’

Schools closed on first day of term in rebel-held Yemen

Iraqi forces in standoff with Kurds in oil-rich Kirkuk

Protests in southern Morocco over water shortages

Iran’s Zarif says Trump speech in violation of nuclear deal

In Egypt, illiteracy rates down but problem remains

ISIS regroups in Libya amid jihadist infighting

Egypt’s Nation’s Future Party seeks to build on youth vote

Qatar freezes assets of royal member over Gulf crisis

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terror cell

Syrian troops recapture city of Mayadeen from IS

Gulf countries voice support for Trump’s tough stance on Iran

Princess named to head Saudi sports federation

IS fighters surrender as defeat in Raqa nears

Former French culture minister picked to head UNESCO

Baghdad issues ultimatum to Kurds on Kirkuk

Trump tears into Iran, leaves nuclear deal hanging

Iranians respond with anger, mockery to Trump speech

Somalia's defense minister, army chief resign

EU says it must watch IS in North Africa 'very carefully'

NATO chief urges US, Turkey to 'find solutions' to row

Turkey deploys troops to Syria's rebel-held Idlib

Four jihadists killed in Mali