The Government of Israel is using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to bring haredi political parties into the ruling coalition while forcing out the centrist and largely secular Yesh Atid Party to pressure liberal Jewish religious leaders to accept slightly improved but still second class status for their movements at the Kotel (Western Wall).
Last updated at 2:32 pm CDT 9-29-2014
Government Tries To Use Coalition Changes To Force Liberal Jewish Movements To Cede More To Haredim
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Government of Israel is using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to bring haredi political parties into the ruling coalition while forcing out the centrist and largely secular Yesh Atid Party to pressure liberal Jewish religious leaders and Women of the Wall to accept permanent second class status for their movements at the Kotel (Western Wall), Ha’aretz reported.
The government wanted to finalize an agreement with the leaders and open a new egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch in the far southern area below the Temple Mount before Rosh Hashana and before the haredi parties join the coalition, but the leaders refused because the government’s proposed compromise does not meet the vast majority of conditions for the move the government itself proposed 1 1/2 years ago in a deal based on a plan drawn up by Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky at Netanyahu’s request the liberal religious leaders enthusiastically accepted.
That deal mandated several things. These are the four main points:
1. The new egalitarian prayer area would be made contiguous to the existing Kotel prayer areas by removing (or modifying) the Mughrabi bridge to the Temple Mount and through common paving and design.
2. The two areas would share a joint entrance and a joint non-prayer plaza area.
3. Both areas would be considered to be part of the Kotel and the Kotel plaza.
4. Haredim (and to a much lesser extent, the Zionist Orthodox) would retain control over the existing Kotel area while the liberal Reform and Conservative Movements would control the egalitarian space.
But the Kotel’s state-employed haredi rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, rejects the first three of these points. He refuses to agree to extend the Kotel and the Kotel plaza south to encompass Robinson’s Arch and the proposed egalitarian space. He does not want the two areas to be contiguous and he does not want them to share the same entrance or plaza.
An Israeli court has already ruled that the egalitarian non-denominational women’s prayer group Women of the Wall (WoW) can legally pray as they see fit in the existing women’s section of the Kotel. The court also chastised police for penalizing WoW and banning them from the Kotel to prevent haredim from rioting.
Nonetheless, after briefly following the court’s ruling and allowing WoW to pray at the Kotel undisturbed, police reverted to harassing WoW and relegating it to pray in area at the far rear of the existing Kotel plaza adjacent to the bathrooms.
WoW then inexplicably agreed to the government-proposed compromise and pointed to the conditions of that compromise – making the two prayer areas contiguous and giving full control over the egalitarian space to liberal Jews – as victories for it. The move was spearheaded by the group’s leader Anat Hoffman, who works for the Reform Movement. WoW's acceptance of the deal caused some of the Orthodox and traditional members of WoW – including its founder and many of its original members – to leave the group in protest.
FailedMessiah.com reported last year that Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, pressured Hoffman into accepting the deal. Schonfeld’s movement was allegedly promised control of the egalitarian space and its new government-funded budget as a quid pro quo for pressuring Hoffman. The only liberal Jewish leader publicly happy about the current state of the negotiations with the government is Schonfeld. Schonfeld denies pressuring Hoffman or that any quid-pro-quo existed, and Hoffman denies Schonfeld pressured her.
According to Ha’aretz, leaders of the Conservative and Reform Movements, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly; WoW’s Anat Hoffman; the Israel heads of the Reform and Conservative Movements; Rebecca Caspi, head of the Israel office of the Jewish Federations of North America; Sharansky; Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit; and the haredi Kotel rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, met last week in Jerusalem.
Rabinowitz rejected the compromise everyone else had previously agreed on. Despite having proposed the deal and urging the liberal movements to accept it, the government appeared to side with Rabinowitz. Of the liberal leaders there, after the meeting only Schonfeld publicly professed to be happy with the current situation, claiming to be “very optimistic.”
“It was very exciting to see how engaged the prime minister was,” Schonfeld reportedly said.
As for the fourth point in the original deal, according to Ha’aretz, all parties to the negotiations agreed that a committee made up of representatives from the government, the Jewish Agency, and non-Orthodox movements will control the egalitarian prayer area and its budget and haredim (and, to a much lesser extent, the Zionist Orthodox) will have exclusive control over the existing Kotel prayer area and the plaza behind it.
Meanwhile, a new poll has found that 73% of non-haredi Israelis oppose haredi political parties joining the government. (That number rises beyond 85% if only non-Orthodox Israelis are counted.) Non-haredi Israelis are also overwhelming in favor of separating the state and its control over the lives of its citizens from the haredi and Zionist Orthodox religious estabishment which by law currently controls marraige, divorce, conversion to Judaism, burial and other lifecycle issues.