The Kotel is still being ruled by Haredi parties - editorial

The fact that an Israeli government coalition cannot implement the 2016 Western Wall agreement that would give non-Orthodox Jewry equal footing at Judaism’s holiest site is wrong.

The egalitarian section of the Western Wall last week with new wooden floorboards. (photo credit: LIBA CENTER)
The egalitarian section of the Western Wall last week with new wooden floorboards.
(photo credit: LIBA CENTER)

At least he was being honest.

In his expansive interview with the Post’s Lahav Harkov last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spelled out clearly that the plan to formally establish an egalitarian section at the Western Wall was unlikely to be implemented under the current coalition’s watch.
Ironically, it was Bennett himself, as Diaspora minister, who played a significant role in the 2016 plan which was to have expanded the egalitarian Ezrat Israel section at the Southern Wall and create a joint management committee with leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements.
But now as prime minister of a coalition consisting of often-conflicting parties, his hands are apparently tied. Calling the issue a “controversial topic in this coalition,” Bennett told Harkov: “We knew in advance that we cannot advance everything. We will only act with a consensus... This government is meant to save the country and bring it back to function. It cannot fulfill everyone’s wishes.”
As compensation to non-Orthodox world Jewry who are in favor of the plan, Bennett added that the Ezrat Israel section would be upgraded and enlarged. The government plans to clear the boulder that fell in the egalitarian section in 2018, keeping worshipers at a distance from the wall, and to make other physical improvements without enacting other parts of the compromise.
 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett in his office: Neither Bibi-ism nor Smotrich-ism is the Right. The Right is the love of the land but also the love of our people; and, above all, I am a Jew. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett in his office: Neither Bibi-ism nor Smotrich-ism is the Right. The Right is the love of the land but also the love of our people; and, above all, I am a Jew. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI)
The prime minister also tried to appease Diaspora Jewry by saying that he wanted them to “continue their efforts to feel that they have a home here in Israel. Even if there are disagreements, it’s OK, but we need to keep up communication with them.”
The reactions – from within the government and from without – ranged from the mundane to the indignant.Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai from Labor said that his party is still committed to the Western Wall agreement, but is basically toothless to do anything about it.
“We have made a public commitment to this plan and we will continue to work within the government and outside of it, together with our partners inside and outside the government, in order to implement this plan in the near future,” he said.
Yizhar Hess, the former executive director and CEO of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel, said it was hard for him “to believe that this ‘change government’ cannot find a way to implement the plan. This is a strategic ticking time bomb that will harm relations between Israel and world Jewry.”
On the other side of the fence, members of the Orthodox parties said they were relieved over the apparent paralysis in the government on the issue. United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni was indicative, saying that “anything that will stop the galloping to harm every aspect of Judaism makes me happy. I am a partner in efforts to stop these steps and I hope they will continue to be stopped.”
The fact that an Israeli government coalition, that includes no haredi members, cannot implement the 2016 Western Wall agreement that would give non-Orthodox Jewry equal footing at Judaism’s holiest site is wrong. It’s indicative of the stranglehold the haredi parties still have on the religious institutions in the country. Even when they are not in the government, the government dances to their tune.
Bennett admitted that there was opposition to the plan from within his own Yamina Party as well as Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party. 
One wonders if those opposed are hedging their bets that they will be negotiating with haredi parties in a future right-wing coalition when the current one collapses sooner rather than later, and they want to remain on their good side – or if there is really an ideological opposition to creating an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel.
Whatever the internal maneuverings are, the takeaway from Bennett’s Kotel agreement admission is that his coalition has very little wiggle room to really make significant changes at one of Judaism’s holiest sites. While some praise can be thrown its way for handling the ongoing pandemic-induced health crisis without imposing lockdowns or causing severe economic damage, the government’s main achievement – besides finally passing the budget – seems to be that it has managed to survive. That is this government’s advantage and disadvantage. It might be the most representative government in Israeli history, but big changes? Don’t expect them.