Three weeks have passed since the government voted to implement the Mendelblit plan for the new pluralistic section of the Kotel and there has been much debate in the Knesset, in the news, on social media, and on the street.
The positive support from the liberal movements was expected. The Reform movement heralded the plan as groundbreaking and a joint statement from the Conservative/Masorti leaders praised the recognition of the diversity and pluralistic nature of the Jewish people. Both movements saw the agreement as a first step in the recognition of their legitimacy in Israel.
The negative reactions came from the ultra-Orthodox in the government who do not want to share the power and the money allocated to religious institutions with the liberal movements was also expected. They have millions of reasons to oppose the deal. Religious Services Minister David Azoulay’s remarks about Reform Judaism has been venomous and he was among five ministers who voted against the plan.
What was surprising to me were the statements made by the Kotel administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz who was an integral part (maybe a reluctant part) of the Kotel negotiations. After-the fact, Rabbi Rabinowitz called the government plan a desecration of God’s name and said that he was hoping to get the plan cancelled. Maybe that’s just what he says to the Orthodox press.
There was also opposition from Orthodox women who fear the further Haredization of the northern plaza and other liberal Jewish religious institutions also expressed the same concerns about the fact that the plan leaves the Ultra-Orthodox control of holy spaces and religious life in Israel. I cannot disagree with this but I do believe that the new third section is a very good start to pluralism in religious services in Israel.
All of these arguments will become mute if forces inside the government and out kill the plan. The government decision still needs two cabinet members to sign new regulations to implement the plan, one of those is Azoulay. A spokesman for Azoulay told Haaretz that he hasn’t decided yet whether he will sign the regulations.
The Palestinian Authority and the Jordanians have said that any construction is the area will be viewed as a violation of the status quo. Israeli archaeologists are also opposed to construction at the ancient site.
This doesn’t mean that we should despair. In an Op-Ed Friday’s Jerusalem Post, Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky wrote about one journey for one people. He said that the plan required a lot of give and take on the part of all the negotiating parties. He acknowledged that Women of the Wall had to give up their place in the women’s section, that the liberal movements had to give up an equal place in terms of space and grandeur at the Kotel, and that the Orthodox establishment had to give up their monopoly and allow non-Orthodox management of a holy space.
Sharansky said that, “The Kotel is a singular symbol of Jewish peoplehood: a reflection of our ancient history, an embodiment of our national renewal, and a focus of our religious longings.” He wrote that we are one people and one religion and that every one of us deserves a place at the Kotel and this is what WoW has been saying for over twenty-seven years.