22 Million NIS to show 'Who's the Boss'

Anyone who thinks that the outgoing government in Israel did not function at all is wrong.

Dr. Yizhar Hess (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Yizhar Hess
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Anyone who thinks that the outgoing government in Israel did not function at all is wrong. There are, in fact, certain areas where our officials worked like a well-oiled machine and model of efficiency. Take, for example, Israeli Government Resolution No. 617 of December 6, 2020 which related to upgrading the infrastructure of the Kotel and to encouraging visits to it.
In a clever combination of white-washed bureaucratic language of sections and subsections of previous decisions, of a 5-year plan, the Government, despite the pandemic crisis and a 2-year absence of an orderly state budget, decided that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation would receive a handsome grant of more than 22 million shekel so that the shopping list of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Kotel Rabbi, could be purchased. This man has become the sole caretaker, judge, and sheriff of the holiest place of the Jewish people.
Under Rabinowitz’s rod, the Western Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. But what does it matter? Rabinowitz asks and the purse strings open.  Look who lent a hand: The Ministry of Culture and Sports - 1 million shekel for acquisitions; The Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage - 1.5 million shekel for operations; The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs - 1 million; The Ministry of the Interior 3.5 million; The Ministry of Transportation donated 2 million.
The Ministry of Tourism granted 1.5 million; The Ministry of Public Security -1 million; The Prime Minister's Office chipped in 5.5 million; The Ministry of Environmental Protection added 250,000 NIS (apparently Minister Gamliel did not want to be left out); The Ministry of Education allocated 3 million to fund student visits to the Western Wall and "infrastructure to support the said activities.”
(Any wise sage steeped in the scripture of budgets will explain that this final clause contains an infinite measure of flexibility that cannot be measured in either our world or the world to come); The Ministry of Defense awarded 3 million NIS to finance visits for soldiers "and their participation in various educational programs." (Let your imagination run wild regarding the nature of the programs, the bodies that will implement them, and the last time any of us received government funding for “miscellaneous programs.”)
No, I am not envious. Not of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and not of the enterprises of Rabbi Rabinowitz. The man knows his work. He is a skilled and well- connected politician, who makes nice to the generous and the wealthy, who knows how to flatter the authorities- all while achieving his heart's desires. A true talent. From time to time he wisely employs, at the expense of the public, prestigious public relations professionals and spokespeople. And it works for him.  See the results for yourself - an entire country is on hold, yet "hocus-pocus" - he makes 22 million shekels appear.
In my opinion, these actions - not of Rabinowitz but of the Israeli government, border on being both anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist. Here is why.
On January 31, 2016, the Israeli government adopted the Kotel Agreement, an outline prepared by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky during four years of dedicated labor. The result of extensive negotiations between the Conservative and Reform movements, Women of the Wall, all the leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, and even Rabbi Rabinowitz himself, the outline sought to creatively resolve an issue that fatally threatened the connection of World Jewry to the Western Wall and the status of Jerusalem.
According to the compromise, the southern part of the Western Wall, which today is the adjacent archeological garden, would be converted (without harming the archeology, of course) into a pluralistic prayer site where families could pray together without a partition. Some called it “Ezrat Yisrael” (“Israel’s Enclosure”), we called it “Kotel Hamishpahot” (the “Family Kotel”).
But the Israeli government did not withstand pressure put on it. Six months later, the agreement was frozen. Since then, five years now, we have been struggling in the Supreme Court with nary an end in sight.
The cost of implementing the proposed compromise would have been pennies compared to the annual budget of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (the above-mentioned 22 million NIS mentioned is only a fraction of the actual budget). During these years, we turned to the same ministries who so willingly opened their pocketbooks to Rabinowitz’s requests, asking for their assistance in upgrading the Family Kotel plaza to make its appearance more respectful and official. For nada! The temporary wooden platform that Naftali Bennett set up eight years ago as Minister of Diaspora Affairs stands in its original place. The space looks like a backyard.
What a glorious injustice. I look at the generous budget to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation that government officials from across the spectrum waited in line to donate to, and I am filled with sadness. The implementation of the Kotel Agreement would have been a historic moment for Judaism and an unparalleled Zionist celebration as well. Today, in my role as Deputy Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, I understand more than ever what an opportunity was in the hands of the Israeli government to heal one of the largest wounds that afflict us as a people and as a nation. Instead, it did nothing, shafting all of us in the process.
Dr. Yizhar Hess is the Vice Chairman of the World Zionist Organization.