Women of the Wall celebrating Rosh Chodesh Elul..
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, along with two fellow justices, issued a sharp rebuke to the government on Monday morning for failing to implement the agreement for a government-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.
The justices gave strong indications during a High Court hearing that they support the plan, and that they wish to see it implemented as soon as possible, given the repeated and ongoing failure to find a solution to the problem.
Their comments could give the government impetus to implement the agreement and give the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties something to think about in their ongoing objections to the plan in light of the justice’s comments on Monday which signal that the court is now more likely to intervene on behalf of the progressive Jewish movements.
The justices issued their comments during a hearing of the High Court on Monday morning on a petition filed by the progressive Jewish movements in Israel and others demanding a more diverse make-up for the board of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the body that governs the site.
Speaking more broadly about the government’s failure to implement the agreement approved in January by the cabinet, Deputy High Court President Elyakim Rubenstein said he could not understand what the problem was, given the government’s earlier approval.
“It is simply unbelievable, and what’s more, the state is defending this [situation],” said Rubenstein.
Naor asked of the state attorney, “Are you expecting us to take your chestnuts out of the fire?” She added that “things have been dragged out forever and without any limit,” regarding arrangements for the progressive Jewish movements at the Western Wall.
Naor continued, saying that she did not believe the issue of representation in the Western Wall Heritage Foundation was the most pressing matter, but rather the state’s failure to implement the agreement.
Naor said that she thought the government wanted the court to take responsibility for the matter, “But this is in practice the job of the government.
This is something which needs to go up to the appropriate level because we’re talking about the Western Wall. Things aren’t moving.”
Rubenstein continued to criticize the government for the failure to implement the deal, and referenced the critical next step required under the terms of the agreement in which the Religious Services minister must sign off on new regulations to the Law for the Holy Places.
“In regards to these regulations, is there any chance in the world that the Religious Services minister will sign on these regulations, or does some step need to be taken so that someone else will sign them,” said Rubenstein.
Naor and Rubenstein recommended that the petitioners amend their petition and re-focus it on the failure of the government to follow through on the decision made in January, and even suggested that this be done within a week.
Eventually, it was agreed that the amended petition be submitted in the next three weeks.
Rubenstein asked the state attorney to inform “the relevant officials” so that “a solution can be reached in a respectable way.”
“Whoever doesn’t want pluralism can go to the northern[Western Wall] plaza, and whoever does can go to the southern plaza; we are a Jewish people,” Rubenstein concluded, alluding to his support for the agreement.
Attorney Yizhar Hess, Director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, which was party to the petition, said the court had issued “a clear voice” to the government and indicated that the government should implement the agreement.
“The historic agreement, which was agreed and which was approved by a majority vote in the cabinet, cannot just disappear because someone suddenly changes their mind after things have been signed,” said Hess.
Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, said, “We are gratified that the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has accepted our long-held argument that the Western Wall cannot be held hostage by a minority sect. Today, the Court issued a warning to the Israeli government, saying that it will intervene if the government refuses to implement its own decision.”