Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall (WOW), told 330 Reform Rabbis at the end of February in Jerusalem, only weeks after an historic Israeli government compromise agreement that will create a separate egalitarian prayer space at the Southern Kotel Plaza to be administered by the Reform and Conservative movements and WOW, that the greatest danger is that ultra-Orthodox politicians would exert so much pressure on the Prime Minister that the agreement would never be implemented.
In Haaretz this week, Natan Sharansky, who PM Netanyahu appointed some time ago to bring all the parties together to craft a compromise agreement, said that the agreement is now being threatened. See http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.712614
Two ultra-Orthodox parties in the government, United Torah Judaism and Shas, which together hold only 13 Knesset seats out of 120 total, have threatened to leave Bibi’s coalition government of 61 seats if this agreement is implemented, and rather than lose his government and have to call for new elections that polls indicate would show a dramatic reduction in votes for the PM’s Likud party, Netanyahu appointed a representative to re-open negotiations. In other words, ‘Now that we have a deal let’s go back to the bargaining table and strike a new one!’
Natan Sharansky was quoted in Haaretz saying that major changes could “undermine the level of trust that has been established between the Prime Minister and the leaders of world Jewry,” and that reopening negotiations could jeopardize the entire plan. “Every word and principle in the agreement involved concessions…Once you start dismantling it, everything can fall apart.”
The ultra-Orthodox parties’ key demand is that the Conservative and Reform movements should not sit on the public authority that will oversee the new prayer space, as stipulated in the agreement. In other words, the ultra-Orthodox “Chief Rabbi of the Wall” would have the power to forbid any egalitarian service that would take place in the new Southern Kotel Plaza and insert his own ultra-Orthodox rabbis to monitor and oversee all prayer activity. That essentially would cancel this effort and deal a death blow to democracy and religious pluralism in the state of Israel, contrary to Israel’s Declaration of Independence that states that the State of Israel “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language and culture” for all faith traditions, including the Jewish people and all religious streams, not just the orthodox and ultra-Orthodox.
Sharansky said, “… everyone needs to stand behind their decisions, and he [the Chief Rabbi of the Wall] had many opportunities to go and discuss this with different rabbis and politicians. It’s important to stick to positions you’ve taken when you’ve signed something.”
Once again, the minority ultra-Orthodox political parties are striving to thwart a signed government agreement that fulfills the State of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence, that the religious rights of non-Orthodox Judaism be assured and affirmed everywhere in the Jewish state and especially, in this case, at the holiest site in Judaism – Jerusalem’s Western Wall.