Israeli decision to shelve mixed-prayer space draws Canadian anger

Some unfordable parallels with other orthodox or fundamentalist elements within different religions:

A decision by Israel’s government to scrap plans for a mixed-gender prayer area at Jerusalem’s Western Wall has left a senior leader of Canada’s Jewish community “disappointed” but determined to fight the move.

Men and women are segregated as they approach the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

The men’s section of the Western Wall is also considerably larger than the women’s section.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to a compromise deal last year that would recognize a prayer space where women and men could pray together.

But under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition government, Netanyahu and his cabinet shelved that agreement on Sunday, leading to a firestorm of criticism from some Jewish leaders who say the relationship between the Jewish State and Jews who live outside of the Israel is now at risk.

Linda Kislowicz, the president of the Jewish Federations of Canada, said Netanyahu’s decision to back down on the deal “doesn’t make me happy.”

“I’m not sure it really reflects what [Netanyahu] really believes,” Kislowicz told CBC News. “And I think that enough pressure and enough people are going to impress upon him that this was a miscalculation.”

‘We will not stop lobbying’

Kislowicz, who lives in Toronto, is in Israel this week for a series of meetings with Israeli officials. She said those discussions quickly became focused on Sunday’s decision to cancel the plans for the mixed-prayer space. She spent several hours meeting Israeli politicians on Tuesday at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

‘We will not stop lobbying and influencing and pressuring,” until the deal to recognize the egalitarian prayer space is reinstated, she said.

Still, the relationship between Canada’s Jewish community and Israel has taken a hit, she concedes.

“The damage is deep. But I hope temporary. I think that we shouldn’t underestimate the fragmentation, the fracture, the disappointment, the anger even,” Kislowicz said.

There about 400,000 Jews in Canada. It’s believed that the number of Reform or Conservative Jewish Canadians — who hold more liberal beliefs than the ultra-Orthodox — is proportionally lower in Canada compared to the United States, where Reform and Conservative rabbis have reacted with anger to Netanyahu’s decision.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s Foreign Ministry was preparing its diplomats in the United States to deal with the “crisis” over the Western Wall decision. There was no mention of the talking points being distributed to Israel’s embassy in Ottawa.

On the forefront of the battle for prayer equality in Israel is a group known as Women of the Wall, who have spent years seeking equal rights to worship.

The group’s early-morning prayer gatherings often turned into protests that sometimes became violent, with clashes between supporters and the police.

Source: Israeli decision to shelve mixed-prayer space draws Canadian anger – World – CBC News

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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