Diaspora Jewry is frustrated by the Israeli government’s recurring delay in implementing the Kotel compromise. Like a driver pushing on the gas pedal of a car stuck in the snow, the wheels are spinning on the Kotel compromise but it’s not going anywhere. Instead, the much-celebrated agreement, signed in 2016 for the creation of an egalitarian prayer space near the Western Wall and then put on hold by the Netanyahu government, is now being put in cold storage by the coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
We recognize that the Kotel compromise is more important to Diaspora Jews than it is to most Israelis, as it is largely the small Reform and Mesorti communities in Israel that seem to care about it at all. But, for Israeli leaders, the “historic compromise” was the bright shiny object they dangled to show how Israel values its Zionist brethren in other countries, only to repeatedly avoid implementation for fear of haredi backlash.
We understood (even if we disagreed with) the Netanyahu government’s move in 2017. Haredi coalition partners opposed the compromise because it gave recognition to liberal Judaism. So, rather than risk a coalition collapse, Benjamin Netanyahu urged “patience and tolerance” on the speed of implementation, and then ignored the agreement.
We are now four years later. Today’s Bennett-Lapid coalition does not include haredi parties and is striving to otherwise be inclusive. But, as we have pointed out before, the current coalition is a balancing act of ideological contradictions that has avoided dealing with almost any controversial issues.
We were therefore heartened when Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai told reporters that the government would implement the Kotel compromise plan. But Shai was wrong. His announcement was followed by another telling us that implementation of the plan was being suspended, again. According to Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, “We have decided to not deal with this now, period. We’re freezing everything at the moment. We’re not touching it.”
Israel’s on-again, off-again approach to the five-year-old Kotel compromise is another example of the disconnect in Israel’s understanding of its Diaspora cousins – especially those in the U.S. The Kotel compromise represented an historic first step in what was heralded as Israeli acceptance of religious pluralism efforts promoted by significant segments of Diaspora Jewry. It came at a time when the religious observances of most Diaspora Jews were being belittled, discredited and rejected by elements of the Israeli government, and reflected an important step toward greater understanding, respect and accommodation.
The goodwill from that move diminished when implementation of the plan was put on hold in 2017 and has steadily deteriorated with each further delay and excuse. Last week’s “deep freeze” pronouncement just makes things worse.
We recently welcomed Shai’s promise of a new attitude toward Diaspora Jewry and new enhancements to Diaspora relations. But now, we’re not so sure, as Israel’s abandonment of the Kotel compromise feeds the upsetting narrative that Israel simply takes our community for granted. JN