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The State of Israel Abandoned Judaism’s Holiest Site
Egalitarian prayer platform at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel, 16 June 2014. (NearTheZoo/Wikimedia Commons)

The State of Israel Abandoned Judaism’s Holiest Site

Ma’ariv, Israel, December 16

Anyone who follows the statements made about the Western Wall Plan, which would allow for a non-Orthodox “mixed” prayer area for men and women to be expanded in the southern part of the complex, understands just how confusing the government’s stance on the matter has become. So many promises have been made, followed by sharp turns and twists in the government’s decision. The plan was adopted in a government decision dating January 2016. However, the joy of the Reform and Conservative streams, which support mixed-gender prayer, was too early. An intense pressure campaign by the Orthodox parties on former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ended with a complete capitulation and reneging on the decision – to the vociferous cheers of Orthodox forces but the chagrin of millions of liberal Jews in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. It turned out, and not for the first time, that for the purpose of receiving donations and international support, the State of Israel doesn’t care about the donors’ exact strand of Judaism; but when it comes to their feelings and connection to the holiest of places, only Orthodox Jews get a seat at the table. The new government has actually shown signs of a welcome change. Last month, Ministers Yair Lapid, Merav Michaeli, and Avigdor Liberman announced that they would revive the Western Wall Plan and that the heads of the Reform and Conservative communities would be partners in the management of the site. Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid even solemnly announced: “I will fight for the plan to pass.” But this time the zigzagging was fast. Earlier this week, journalist Shalom Yerushalmi revealed that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana decided to freeze the implementation of the plan. A quick inquiry revealed that although the issue was not within his authority at all, Kahana flanked the ultra-Orthodox on the Right and rejected the plan. Bennett, who initiated the egalitarian expansion in his role as Diaspora Affairs Minister under the Netanyahu government, chose to hide behind the backs of Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo, who “was authorized by him to deal with the matter,” and of President Isaac Herzog, who went into the thick of things. Lapid repeated similar excuses and announced that he was principally in favor of the plan, but “not now.” None of the ministers bothered to update Nachman Shai, Diaspora affairs minister, on the matter. Government officials briefed the media and explained that the plan was frozen so as not to play into the hands of the opposition, which is raising funds for a campaign designed to unite the ranks within the ultra-Orthodox sector. This is a cynical political struggle and the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews around the world, has become the battleground. Who will decide the fate of the holiest site, a cultural and historical relic of the Jewish people, for generations to come? The effort put into excluding non-Orthodox Jews from praying at the site is rude, blatant, and bordering on anti-Semitism. It must be said with sorrow that the State of Israel has chosen to neglect the holiest place for the Jewish people. The entrance gates are narrow, wooden panels divide and separate it from the temporary Mughrabi Bridge built 16 years ago (which is a scandal in itself), the signage in the plaza is pointless, not to mention the inaccessibility of important archaeological excavations. Freezing the layout of the Western Wall is no less than abandoning the site and handing it over to the extremists. This so-called “government of change” has a duty and responsibility to liberate the Western Wall from the zealots. It must not miss the opportunity to make a historic difference for generations of Jews to come. –Orit Lavie-Nashiel (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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