succot at the kotel 390 7.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Benjamin Netanyahu has a number of responsibilities as Israel’s prime minister. His job requires him to protect the country and its citizens, to ensure Israel’s economic growth, and to safeguard its social wellbeing. He also should care about keeping Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people.
Last week, a decision was made to remove Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev from her position as chairwoman of a ministerial committee for the holy places. We hope that this decision is a positive step – but that will depend on Netanyahu.
According to government regulations, authority over the committee now passes to Netanyahu. Regev announced on Thursday that she cannot remain head of the committee since her conscience does not let her approve a series of upgrades to an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall.
The question is what will Netanyahu do now. Last summer, he decided to cancel a previous cabinet decision under which the egalitarian plaza would be upgraded; a new entrance to the Kotel – to the known male and female sections as well as the egalitarian plaza – would be constructed; and a new committee, comprised of members of the Reform and Conservative movements, would be established to oversee it.
The decision came under the fierce opposition of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) members of his coalition.
Amid threats that the government would collapse, Netanyahu decided to renege on his previous promise and commitment to progressive Jewish movements throughout the Diaspora. He now has the opportunity to make things right.
The Kotel belongs to Jews everywhere, whether they are Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or simply Jewish. No one, not the rabbinate, Miri Regev or Benjamin Netanyahu, has ownership over the place that has been in the hearts and minds of Jews for millennia. If Israel wants to continue being the Jewish state – in other words, the homeland for all Jews – it has a responsibility to make Jews feel welcome. Part of that is affording them a place where they can pray and practice their religion the way they see fit.
Regev’s decision not to approve the upgrades is one of the greatest examples of political hypocrisy in recent Israeli history. In 2013, she publicly advocated to allow the Women of the Wall to pray at the Western Wall, and in 2016 she was one of the ministers who voted in support of the original Kotel deal.
Now in 2018, her conscience, as she claims, does not let her approve the plan.
We find it hard to believe that Regev’s conscience has changed. What we do believe is that Regev made cynical use of her position for political gain.
She understood that a decision to approve the plaza would be opposed by haredi parties, and might not sit well with some of the more traditional elements of her Likud Party base. As someone who will need to run in the Likud primaries ahead of the next election, Regev made a simple calculation: she preferred politics over Jewish unity.
As outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky said on Thursday: “Minister Regev’s conscience is her own matter, but her public about-face regarding the need to set established prayer practices at the site is most regrettable.”
It is regrettable, but it is also indicative of a bigger problem with Israeli governments – the frequent decision to choose politics over propriety, and survival in the Knesset over Jewish unity and peoplehood.
This has got to stop. Real leaders don’t follow what their political base dictates; real leaders lead their people from one point to the next. They take risks – not just in the skies over Syria or the Gaza Strip, but also when it comes to the future of their coalition when they believe something is right.
Netanyahu now has a chance to make amends for his regretful decision last year to repeal the Kotel deal. As prime minister, it is his responsibility.
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