Kafe Knesset for June 23

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Just in time for Shabbat… Religious issues are on everyone’s lips today, with Haredi parties threatening the coalition’s stability over the Western Wall and conversions.

United Torah Judaism and Shas plan to present a Kotel-related resolution at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. The resolution would cancel the cabinet decision to expand the egalitarian section at the southern end of the Western Wall and giving it a government imprimatur. The original resolution determined that a large, state-recognized egalitarian section would be created at the southern end of the Western Wall, would be accessible from the main Western Wall complex and would be run by a board including progressive Jewish representatives and those of the Women of the Wall organization. The Haredi parties always opposed the original decision, and implementation has been kept on ice for that very reason. Now, the Haredi parties say, non-implementation isn’t enough – it has to be repealed. The reason they want to do it on Sunday, is because Monday is when the Reform and Conservative movements have their day before the High Court of Justice. By Monday, the State has to respond to the Reform and Conservative petitions against it for not implementing the Kotel compromise. The Haredi parties want to avoid a court order requiring the government to start constructing the expanded prayer platform. Well placed sources with knowledge of the efforts to implement the original plan acknowledged on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to repealing the agreement, but is nonetheless trying to appease his Haredi coalition partners. It is possible that the Netanyahu will agree to a resolution formally suspending implementation of the agreement, although leaders of the progressive Jewish denominations say they will oppose any formulation that permanently scuttles the agreement. The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment as to whether Netanyahu will allow a resolution repealing or suspending the Western Wall agreement to be passed.

Meanwhile, conversions are back on center stage. A proposed bill giving the Chief Rabbinate the sole authority over conversions led Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post. The bill states that only conversions recognized by the Chief Rabbinate will make someone qualified under the Law of Return. This bill means that people who converted under the auspices of the Reform or Conservative movements, or even under Orthodox rabbis that the Chief Rabbinate does not approve, would not be able to make Aliya. Sharansky’s criticism comes ahead of next week’s Jewish Agency board meeting, with Jewish communal leaders arriving in Israel. The Shas bill is on the agenda for Sunday’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting.

Crisis averted: There was almost another crisis with the Haredi parties about Shabbat, which was worked out Thursday night after representatives of the Haredi parties and the relevant government ministries came to new agreements over the issue. Shas and UTJ were upset about state infrastructure maintenance and construction set to take place on the Sabbath. In a meeting between Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Interior Minister and Shas chairman Arye Deri, Health Minister and UTJ chairman Ya’acov Litzman and senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni at the Prime Minister’s Office, it was agreed that greater efforts would be made to prevent maintenance and construction work on state infrastructure from being carried out on the Sabbath.

Labor race narrows: The seemingly infinite amount of candidates in the Labor leadership primary went down by one today, leaving only eight. Amiram Levin – who happens to be Netanyahu’s former IDF commander – dropped out and is backing Avi Gabbay, the former environmental protection minister from Kulanu. Gabbay quit last year when Avigdor Liberman was appointed Defense Minister. Gabbay is also the winner of a Twitter poll on the election, which Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal organized. Gabbay won with 35% of the vote – but Twitter only allows four options and plenty of non-Labor members surely took the poll, so take it with a grain of salt.

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