Prime Minister Yair Lapid might only be 48 hours in his new role at the helm of Israel’s interim government, but he has a load on his plate like never before.
He needs to stabilize the cabinet as Israel embarks on a new election. He needs to prepare for the visit of US President Joe Biden in two weeks, as well as for his trip later this week to Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron.
And he will need to do all of this while overseeing Israeli efforts to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability and while preparing and running Yesh Atid’s election campaign ahead of November 1.
Lapid's most important act as PM
There is, however, one decision that he should make as early as Sunday – that although it might not seem like the most important decision for Israel, it will have a lasting effect on the country and, particularly, its relations with Jewish communities from across the Diaspora.
That decision is to bring the Western Wall compromise deal to the cabinet for a vote.
A short reminder: the deal, brokered by former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, was approved by Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet in early 2016. But after 18 months, and under pressure from haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, Netanyahu held another vote and overturned the original approval given to the deal.
Since then, progress on the issue has been stalled. Work has not moved forward at the pluralistic plaza which both Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett – when they were prime ministers – promised to upgrade, and neither has anything moved when it comes to the establishment of a pluralistic council to manage the egalitarian prayer plaza at the Kotel.
The consequences of no Western Wall agreement
What has happened instead are events like what took place on Thursday when haredi youth entered the egalitarian plaza and started harassing a group of progressive Jews who were praying there.
The large group of ultra-Orthodox youth arrived with whistles and used them to disturb the prayer service at the plaza.
A few of the demonstrators tore the siddurim (prayer books) published by the Conservative movement, and one teen was photographed blowing his nose on a torn page of one of them. It was a blatant hillul Hashem, desecration of God.
Rabbi Arie Hasit, a Conservative rabbi who was leading a Bar Mitzvah service for an American boy at the plaza, wrote on Facebook: “It is difficult for me to find the words to describe my experience this morning at Ezrat Israel. I hoped that the charming, shy, but determined young boy wouldn’t be exposed to hatred. Instead, he received shouts from dozens of children and teenagers with whistles calling him a Christian. There were chants saying that he was a Nazi.
"An American boy who wanted to celebrate reaching the age of observance. A boy who chose to get his aliyah (ascendance) to the Torah in Israel. In the presence of his parents, grandparents and extended family.”
The answer to all of this is for Lapid to bring the Kotel deal back to the cabinet to be approved once again. It is a promise that the newly-installed prime minister has made throughout his career, including during the last government.
Passing such a decision would be easy within the cabinet, even with some slight opposition from Yamina Minister Ayelet Shaked. Otherwise, there is probably no one in the government who would vote against approving the deal.
It is possible that passing such a decision might not even lead to immediate changes due to the upcoming election. Nevertheless, it is still worth holding a vote and passing the deal so the decision can be locked in before a government led by Netanyahu and his haredi partners potentially takes over after the November election.
This is a historic moment for Lapid specifically and for Israel more generally. Passing the Kotel deal in the cabinet would right an injustice inflicted on Israeli-Diaspora relations by Netanyahu and his previous government.
Pluralistic and progressive Jews from Israel and around the world deserve a place to pray that is respectable and where they and their form of worship are respected. If Israel wants to be the Jewish state, it needs to be a place where all Jews feel they have a place to pray.
Currently, that is not the case. Lapid has an opportunity to change that. We hope he does.