Far Right tries to stop Bennett from enacting Kotel deal

During the Women of the Wall prayer service taking place on Monday for Rosh Chodesh Shevet, the women were met with violence, which they said was not brought under control by nearby security guards.

 Women of the Wall praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, January 2022 (photo credit: WOMEN OF THE WALL)
Women of the Wall praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, January 2022
(photo credit: WOMEN OF THE WALL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s cabinet secretary Shalom Shlomo met for 45 minutes on Monday with far-right MK Avi Maoz, who pleaded with him to prevent any egalitarian prayer from taking place at the Western Wall.

Maoz, who heads the Noam Party, tried to persuade Shlomo not to enable the implementation of the 2016 Western Wall agreement that was passed by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and then abandoned.

The Western Wall agreement would have designated by law the current prayer platform for non-Orthodox prayers in the Robinson Arch area at the southern end of the Western Wall as a prayer space for non-Orthodox worship, and would have given representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements a place on the site’s governing committee. At the same time, the central Western Wall plaza would be legally designated as a place exclusively for Orthodox prayer.

But Maoz told Shlomo that all of the wall is holy, and therefore the current egalitarian prayer site must be shut down.

“The Western Wall, the heart of the Jewish people, has united us throughout the generations,” Maoz told Shlomo. “In recent years, it has been used for a political campaign by the provocative women [Women of the Wall] and Reform groups, whose goal is not adding holiness to the Holy Temple but receiving legitimacy for alternatives to the Torah of Israel and Jewish law.”

The campaign was funded by progressive groups and foreign countries in an effort to harm Israel’s Jewish identity, he said.

PARTICIPANTS AT the Women of the Wall prayer service were attacked by other worshipers and passersby at the Western Wall on Monday morning for Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the month of) Shevat. The women were met with physical and verbal violence, which they said was not brought under control by any security guards in the area, nor by Mr. Eden Shimon, director of operations for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

Additionally, they stated that despite a new mandate instructing people in outdoor crowds of over 50 to wear masks, the majority of security guards were not following the instructions themselves, as well as not enforcing it on the crowds of worshipers.

“Once again, Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovich abandoned the safety and well-being of the women of the Western Wall,” the organization said in a statement.

“Despite our repeated appeals to director of operations Mr. Eden Shimon, he chose to let the violence rage in place, unstopped. This again emphasized the urgent need for the implementation of the Western Wall Agreement and for a wide establishment in which the women of the Western Wall can pray safely, without the need for the failed administration of the Western Wall rabbi and his security guards.”

According to reports from other members of the organization, a large group of protesters, including children and teens, chased a group of Women of the Wall members, kicking them and throwing stones as they made their way to the services. One member was injured in the hand, as seen in a photo shared by the organization on their social media.

“It should be emphasized that the police did not protect the Women of the Wall when exiting the Western Wall, and along the road to the Ben Hinnom Valley, and they were beaten and kicked from the Western Wall until the... valley,” a statement from one member read.

For their part, a statement was also issued by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation in response to the events of the morning, in which they stated that the Women of the Wall refused to abide by security directives.

“During this past hour, hundreds of orthodox men and women and about forty women from Women of the Wall have come to the Western Wall Plaza for Rosh Chodesh Shevat prayers,” it wrote.

“The Women of the Wall group decided to leave the area set aside for them, and by doing so, went back on their commitment to the President of Israel and disturbed public order at the Western Wall Plaza,” the foundation said.

“Eden Shimon, director of operations for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, approached the group of Women of the Wall several times and reminded them of the agreement, pointing out that they were disturbing the peace, violating their commitment to the president, and fanning the flames of dispute at the Western Wall Plaza.”

IN NOVEMBER 2021, President Isaac Herzog met with Women of the Wall representatives as well as with MKs Gilad Kariv (Labor) and Alon Tal (Blue and White) ahead of planned Friday morning services. Kariv and Tal ultimately canceled their plans to attend the services due to the security concerns their attendance would generate. However, the services went ahead as usual, with the knowledge and support of the president.

But the foundation stated that Shimon has now turned to the president to inform him about “the group violating a previous agreement they had made with him.”

“The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is deeply saddened by the terrible unrest on Rosh Chodesh,” the statement continued, “both by the entry of men from the Women of the Wall group into the women’s section, something that harms the holiness of the Western Wall and that had not occurred until now, and by an orthodox boy bringing in a whistle, which also harmed the holiness of the site. This is a terrible event that must be denounced.

“Please maintain the sacred nature of the Western Wall and distance from it such disgrace and demonstration.”

Kariv reacted to the events of the morning, calling it the result of “wild incitement by Netanyahu, [Shas leader Arye] Deri, and [United Torah Judaism chairman Ya'acov] Litzman.”

“Everyone for whom the sanctity of the Western Wall and the unity of the people is important must today stand up and work for the advancement of the Western Wall Agreement and the return of extremist voices to the margins,” he said.