Analysis: Progressive movement still waiting for real solution on egalitarian section of Kotel

More than 18 months have passed and the construction has still not begun.

December 19, 2018 04:00
2 minute read.
The ‘Jubilee at the Kotel’ photo exhibition

The ‘Jubilee at the Kotel’ photo exhibition. (photo credit: DAVID AND SRAYA DIAMANT)


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The government’s indefinite suspension of the Western Wall agreement in June 2017 did significant harm to relations between Israel and Jewish communities in North America, leading to a level of tensions that have still not dissipated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly announced after the suspension that he would nevertheless be investing funds to renovate the existing egalitarian site to mollify Diaspora Jewry.

But more than 18 months have passed and the construction has still not begun.

Despite the endless delays, neither the progressive Jewish denominations in the US or Israel, nor the umbrella organizations representing North American Jewry, have had much to say about these failures.


For the most part, it is because they are not invested in the prime minister’s effort to stick a Band-Aid over this open sore.

The 2016 Western Wall cabinet resolution included three main principles, each of which the interested parties saw as critical to the deal: a joint entrance for the egalitarian section and the central plaza, representation on the egalitarian section’s management committee for the progressive denominations, and the physical upgrade.

The first two components would have conferred a level of legitimacy and state recognition on the non-Orthodox movements in Israel, and more precisely their contention that there is more than one way to be Jewish. Without them the deal was worthless.

The Reform and Conservative movements are perfectly happy for the physical renovations to be carried out, because after all one of their central complaints is that the state of the current site is not fitting for a national holy place.

But they see no reason to lobby, cajole and campaign for a partial solution that, given the lengthy delays, the prime minister himself seems only partially invested in.

If Netanyahu was truly invested in expediting the renovation he would twist arms, pressure and squeeze the hard-line National Religious and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) representatives in his own government who are working against the project until he got his way, opined Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel.

“Implementing 30% of the original agreement is not acceptable to me, so should I struggle for it? Is it not enough that they’re giving me stinking fish to eat, that I should prepare and cook them too?” he demanded.

“He’s the one who capitulated to the haredim, who demonstrated a lack of leadership, and so he’s the one who should deal with the renovation.”

Even if the latest delay, a hold-up in the renewal of and approval for construction permits for the renovation, is eventually solved, further legal appeals by the National Religious and haredi opponents of the project are likely, meaning that even the basic physical improvements promised by the prime minister are still probably a long way off.

What seems clear is that the progressive Jewish denominations will not stick their necks out for a project designed to appease them but that merely papers over the cracks of the deeper problem: the lack of Jewish pluralism in the Jewish state.

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