Scuffles broke out at the Kotel between members of Women of the Wall and ultra-Orthodox protesters on Sunday morning.
Dozens of members of Women of the Wall (WoW) and their supporters, including Labor MK Gilad Kariv, were there for the Rosh Hodesh service.
According to WoW, security guards employed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation turned violent and confrontational, while the foundation claimed that Kariv entered the women’s prayer section, setting the whole thing off. Videos and photos from the event could not clarify if Kariv actually entered the section.
“The security guards prevented the entry of a WoW Torah scroll into the women’s section and physically pushed the CEO of our organization, Yochi Rappeport, and our chairwoman Anat Hoffman,” WoW said, adding that “Kariv carried the Torah scroll” into the Western Wall plaza. As a Knesset member, Kariv has parliamentary immunity and cannot be stopped from entering the plaza with a Torah.
The security guards at the entrance to the plaza are under instructions to not allow WoW activists to bring a scroll into the main plaza due to the history of that being the catalyst of more intense confrontations at the site.
Under current policies, women who wish to read from the Torah are asked to pray at the egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel – Ezrat Israel.
In videos distributed by WoW, the security guards can be seen asking Hoffman and Rappeport to move aside before the incident became violent, but they did not move. Another security guard attempted to read the Justice Ministry’s instructions to Kariv, who said the instructions “aren’t legal” and that the security guard is in “no position to tell an MK what to do.”
WoW said: “At the entrance to the women’s section, security guards violently prevented the transfer of the scroll to the hands of Rappeport and even [physically] pushed her and Hoffman.”
Other MKs criticize Kariv
They added that the guards’ behavior and of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz are “shameful,” and that “violence and blasphemy are being encouraged by elements within the Israeli government, including those who in the past demonstrated violence against the WoW.”
Otzma Yehudit MK Amichai Eliyahu, who is expected to become the heritage minister in the new government, said: “An MK who provokes and takes advantage of his parliamentary immunity to bring a Torah scroll into the Kotel plaza, contrary to the position of the Justice Ministry and the procedures at the plaza, is a new low for Kariv, in an attempt to divide the public and harm the values that unite the people of Israel. The Torah is holy and Kariv uses it cynically and humiliatingly to change the character of the Western Wall.”
“It would be better if Kariv would look for other places to create provocations. The Western Wall is the unifying place for all parts of the Jewish people. It would be better if he not stir up controversy.”
The foundation said 20 members of WoW arrived at the site on Sunday morning, adding the “ushers appealed to Kariv to stop with his assistance to the WoW activists, but he did not respond, even though this led to heated spirits.”
“The ushers appealed to Kariv to stop with his assistance to the WoW activists, but he did not respond, even though this led to heated spirits.”Western Wall Heritage Foundation
The videos document Kariv telling WoW activists that they should pray at the women’s section and that when they reach the part of the prayer that includes reading from the Torah scroll, they should exit to the area behind the women’s section – where men and women are permitted to visit together. Rappeport asked Kariv if he is “ok with the company,” hinting towards the security guards surrounding him.
WoW insisted that it will “continue to come to the Western Wall every month and pray there in our own way… as we have been doing for 34 years.”
Kariv, who was the CEO of the Reform Movement in Israel before becoming an MK, was lambasted by UTJ MK Meir Porush, who said “the Reform rabbi is yet again using his immunity as an MK and trampling over the regulations of the rabbi of the Western Wall as a criminal, while desecrating the Torah,” adding that “soon this will all be over,” referring to the new government.
“It’s shameful that in the midst of Hanukkah, when the entire nation of Israel unites, MK Kariv took advantage, once again, of his parliamentary immunity, and helped the ‘women of provocation,’ whose whole purpose is to disturb the crowd of worshipers at the Western Wall, violate public order and sow division in the nation,” chairman of UTJ MK Yitzhak Goldknopf said. He added that he expects “the ombudsman’s for the government and the Knesset to check whether this is not an abuse of immunity of an elected official.”