Don’t Hold Your Breath

The long waited, long delayed, state of Israel’s response to the combined lawsuits of Women of the Wall, the Masorti and Reform movements and other women’s groups was finally given to the Supreme Court on July 17 and it was no surprise. To put it bluntly the response essentially says that no response was necessary. And in a new twist, the court will no longer render a decision on July 30 but has now allowed the chief rabbinate to submit a defense.  The rabbinate argued that this is not a civil matter and should not be in the hands of the government. The court will now decide the case on August 31.

The government said that no response was needed because the Kotel deal was frozen on June 25 and would no longer be implemented. Instead, there would be some fix-ups done to the Southern section of the Kotel, so there was no longer a reason for these lawsuits and they should be dismissed.

The backlash to these underhanded dealings of the government was immediate. After the long negotiated and cabinet approved deal was frozen, haredi MKs also pushed for the advancement of the proposed conversion law that would give them a right to decide who is a Jew and who could make aliyah, effectively changing the law of return to meet their narrow viewpoint.

On the Shabbat following the freeze, the Masorti movement, Reform movement, and Women of the Wall, gathered together in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence for Havdalah and to let their voices be heard. The speeches begged for the government not to divide the Jewish people.

The majority of Israelis are not in favor of deep freezing the Kotel deal. According to a survey conducted by Hiddush (an organization that promotes pluralism in Israel) almost two thirds of Israelis are opposed and only one third agree with the governments’ decision. Hiddush said that the conversion bill was just as unpopular.

There was an immediate world reaction and Natan Sharansky told the press: “As chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, and on behalf of our partners, I must express my deep disappointment at today’s decision by the government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. After four years of intensive negotiations, we reached a solution that was accepted by all major denominations and was then adopted by the government and embraced by the world’s Jewish communities.”

The reactions of world Jewry to these events should have taught Netanyahu and his coalition MKs that this is not acceptable. When you make a promise that “the Kotel belongs to all Jews” and that “Israel is the homeland of all Jews,” and you renege on it sends a very important message that liberal Jews are not welcome In Israel.

So you would think Netanyahu may have learned something from all this. It doesn’t appear that way given the government’s response of no response necessary. 

In an official press release, Women of the Wall said: “We reject this degrading and poor substitute to the Kotel agreement and insist on our right to receive a prayer plaza where we can pray according to our custom, as per the full implementation of the agreement. It is imperative that WoW be part of the body which manages and oversees the new plaza thus ensuring that everyone will be welcome.

The problem isn’t so much a matter of groups who are on two sides of the religious divide, it is the people, the leadership, and the MKs who don’t care enough to get on the boat. Religion is so meaningless to them that they cannot even understand why anyone wants to visit the Kotel and they don’t really care who is a Jew. Until this attitude changes, nothing will be done politically to change the power that was given by Netanyahu to the haredi parties when he bought his last coalition. So don't hold your breath.