Shameful day for Israel as it freezes plan for pluralistic prayer site at Kotel

Netanyahu’s office made sure to issue a statement that the cabinet decision on Sunday was not to cancel the deal but was merely to freeze it. This is a sham.

THE WESTERN WALL. Some 47% of left-wing respondents said they would not agree to a partition of the Old City, compared to 94% on the Right and 78% of centrists. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THE WESTERN WALL. Some 47% of left-wing respondents said they would not agree to a partition of the Old City, compared to 94% on the Right and 78% of centrists.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Sunday will go down in history as a shameful day for the State of Israel, another nail in the coffin of Israel’s failing relationship with Diaspora Jewry.
The determination by the cabinet to cancel its January 2016 decision to establish a third plaza at the Western Wall for egalitarian prayer services is nothing less than a disgrace.
This was a decision taken by Netanyahu’s government – the same one currently in power – and now it is simply being overturned with complete disregard for the ramifications.
The decision to advance a controversial conversion bill on the same day just adds fuel to the fire.
Netanyahu’s office made sure to issue a statement saying Sunday’s cabinet decision was not to cancel the previous deal but merely to freeze it.
This is a sham. The deal had already been frozen for the last 18 months and wasn’t moving forward.
By taking the decision Sunday, Netanyahu is simply signaling to Diaspora Jewry that, at the end of the day, his political survival is more important than Israeli-Diaspora relations.
The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox, wanted the Kotel deal dead and that is what they achieved.
A part of me understands Netanyahu. He was presented with threats from Haredi leaders Ya’acov Litzman, Moshe Gafni and Arye Deri, who said they would topple his coalition if he didn’t cancel the Kotel deal. Without them, he has no government.
On the other hand, Israel is meant to be the state for all of the Jewish people. It is meant to be a place where all Jews can feel at home, can pray freely and practice their religion the way they want – with respect and dignity. It was one thing when the cabinet passed the Kotel deal in 2016, but then got stuck with its implementation.
At least on the surface it seemed to be trying to move things forward. Now, the message to millions of Jews around the world is that Israel simply doesn’t care about them.
Reform and Conservative Jews throughout the US already feel like second-class citizens when it comes to rituals in Israel such as conversion and marriage. By annulling the decision to create a prayer space that all Jews can use is leading this relationship toward an even greater divide.
For years, Netanyahu has told the Israeli public there is no one who understands America and American Jewry better than he does. Now, we finally understand what that means – he doesn’t really care about them.
Also, where was Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, the cabinet member who is supposed to represent Diaspora Jewry’s interests in the government? In January 2016, after the cabinet passed the original Kotel deal, he called the vote “historic” and told this newspaper: “From today, the Kotel is open to all Jews.”
On Sunday, though, Bennett was conveniently absent from the cabinet meeting in which ministers voted to cancel the deal. He was apparently in a briefing with the National Security Council. Although his opposition wouldn’t have changed the outcome, it would have had some symbolic significance.
Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry needs to change. For most Israelis, the Diaspora is only important when something antisemitic happens – a synagogue is vandalized, a Jew is attacked or a Jewish supermarket is shot up.
Only then does it make the headlines and do Israelis care.
Until that changes, our politicians will also only care as long as there is no political price to be paid. What we learned Sunday is that the moment their careers are on the line, their concern goes out the window.
Israelis need to understand that a lot more is at stake. If they value Israel’s relationship with the US, they need to realize it will not remain what it is today without the involvement of the American Jewish community.
Studies – such as the one released last week showing a sharp drop in support for Israel among Jewish college students in the US – are part of a growing trend that will continue to deteriorate as long as the Diaspora feels maligned by what it was led to believe was its eternal homeland.
Prayer at the Western Wall and conversion might not mean a lot to the average Israeli, but they are issues of importance for our fellow Jews around the world. It is time we confront these issues with a bit more seriousness. It will soon be too late.