In a whirlwind visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, found himself at the heart of a heated debate as he called for the expansion of the egalitarian prayer space at the sacred site. His meeting with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and subsequent statement reignited the long-standing controversy surrounding the 2016 Western Wall agreement.
I visited the Western Wall for the first time today and met with Rabbi of the Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz. I reiterated U.S. support for implementation of the 2016 Western Wall agreement to expand the egalitarian space at the Wall. pic.twitter.com/BQXKrVlaTr
— U.S. Ambassador at Large Rashad Hussain (@IRF_Ambassador) April 16, 2023
The agreement, intended to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worshippers by expanding and upgrading the mixed-gender prayer area, has been a point of contention among Jewish communities worldwide. For some, the expansion represents a vital step towards religious pluralism and inclusivity. For others, it is seen as unnecessary interference in the religious practices of the Jewish state.
As word spread of Ambassador Hussain’s visit and statement, the controversy resurfaced, with critics accusing him of overstepping his bounds. Israeli writer and educator Uri Pilichowski took to Twitter to express his disbelief: “This must be a parody account, right? An American Ambassador is instructing the one Jewish state how to practice its religion?” He further pointed out that Hussain had attended Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount without demanding egalitarian services there.
This must be a parody account, right? An American Ambassador is instructing the one Jewish state how to practice its religion?
This Ambassador went to Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount. Did he demand egalitarian services there as well???
The arrogance is astounding. https://t.co/7gDPwHzko9
— Uri Pilichowski (@RationalSettler) April 17, 2023
Pilichowski brings to light an important point: is the Ambassador holding Israel to yet another double standard?