JERUSALEM (JTA) – Women of the Wall condemned a haredi Orthodox lawmaker in Israel who the group said compared non-Orthodox Jews to dogs at a Knesset committee meeting discussing the Western Wall plan.
Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, as well as other guests representing American and non-Orthodox groups, were on hand Wednesday for the meeting of the Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Committee.
During discussion of the frozen agreement to accommodate egalitarian prayer at the wall, Michael Malkieli of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party suggested that when Jews of any movement visit the Western Wall, they should follow the customs of the site, which is under Orthodox authority.
“I think that when we travel abroad to all different types of places, we automatically fall in line with instructions that are in place at the site,” Malkieli said, according to reports. “We know that there are places where dogs aren’t allowed. There are places where they demand that people come in modest clothing.”
Women of the Wall noted in a statement, “This is not the first time an ultra-Orthodox Knesset Member compares women and dogs, a poor statement for anyone, particularly an elected official.”
At the same meeting, Jewish Home lawmaker Moti Yogev told the non-Orthodox movements that the Western Wall had nothing to do with them.
“Do I go into your lesbian and gay clubs?” he asked. “Why do you go into a place that is holy to the Jewish people for generations?”
Meanwhile, the Reform movement announced during the committee meeting that it would not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his representatives until the crisis over the Western Wall is solved.
“We in the Reform movement have taken a decision to stop meeting with the prime minister – and this is unprecedented – as well as with our friend Tzachi Hanegbi, whom we consider to be a true friend, because we want the government to stop misrepresenting these meetings as attempts to resolve this crisis,” said Rabbi Noa Sattath, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel, according to Haaretz.
Hanegbi is the Likud lawmaker in charge of finding a solution to the Western Wall crisis.
The Israeli government in June suspended the agreement it reached in 2016 to expand and upgrade a section at the southern end of the Western Wall at which men and women could pray according to their own custom, not the Orthodox authorities’. The government had negotiated the agreement with the Reform and Conservative movements along with the Women of the Wall group and the Jewish Agency.
The agreement put the upgraded egalitarian section on equal footing with the existing single-sex section and allowed it to be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.
Despite the agreement’s freeze, the government has said it will go ahead with an expansion and improvement of the site at a cost of $5 million.