Tisha B'Av prayers at Ezrat Yisrael section
Tisha B'Av prayers at Ezrat Yisrael section צילום: מרכז ליב"ה

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Blue and White activists ahead of the fast of Tisha B'Av and addressed the controversy over the egalitarian section at the southern end of the Western Wall.

"The Western Wall is long enough to accommodate all parts of Israeli society. I am in favor of Orthodox leadership, but I am not in favor of Orthodox exclusivity," Gantz said in a video published by journalist Avi Ravina.

"That's why we made the arrangement of the extension," the defense minister said. ''Poking a finger in the eye may give you a sense of satisfaction in an unjustified moment, but it causes long-term damage. So I am of course against these things as I do not think it should happen the other way around. There should be no demonstrations at the Western Wall when we have the intended extension for this on the other side."

"It is good that a summary has been made and I think and hope that in the end that with the outline of the Western Wall we can reach a new agreement of this matter," the defense minister added.

Hundreds of worshipers arrived Saturday evening at the egalitarian section called Ezrat Yisrael at the southern end Western Wall, holding the Tisha B'av (the Ninth of Av) service with men and women separated.

The erection of the partition drew the displeasure of Reform and Conservative worshipers in the area.

Vice-Chairman of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and former director of the Conservative Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess commented: "The egalitarian plaza of the Western Wall is the one place in nearly 30 years in which we can pray equally. The rabbis have cynically elected to put a partition specifically here, and more so on Tisha B'av, and we protest that move. This act is an act of baseless hatred, evil in the eyes of God and evil in the eyes of man."

The Liba Center, which helped organize the gender-separated services, commented: "The Western Wall is the center of the struggle between the State of Israel remaining a Jewish state or becoming a 'state of all its citizens.' The hundreds of worshipers who came to the southern plaza came are saying clearly that the Reform Movement must not be allowed to impose their identity on the State of Israel. We are sorry that while we are mourning the devastation caused by baseless hatred, the Reform Movement is using violence and not allowing normal services to be held."

MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), who was present at the scene and who belongs to the Reform Movement, called on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to formalize the plan for an egalitarian section immediately, saying that, "If there is any lesson to learn from Tisha B'Av, it is that the fire of fanaticism and hatred will not stop here. I call on the Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, who initiated the plan for such an egalitarian section, to put an end to the bullying and allow equal prayer as required by law."

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