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Is Netanyhau Serious About the Kotel? Four Comments on a Bad Day at the Wall

by Shmuel Rosner

July 8, 2013 | 7:14 am

A woman wearing a Talit and Tefillin at the Western Wall,
Jerusalem, May 10th, 2013
Photo by Reuters/Amir Cohen

1.

I didn't go to the Kotel this morning to see Women of the Wall's monthly ritual of praying against all odds. My excuses are many, but don't include the presupposition that it's going to be boring: as you can see in my post from the previous month, I was pretty sure that today will be different – and it was indeed, but admittedly not exactly in the way I expected it to be. That is, because the story today was not Women of the Wall becoming a non-story (after one smooth month, with the Knesset members no longer there to support, the media barely showing up, the public hardly paying any attention). The story is also not the Haredis getting their act together after the humiliating experience of last month.

Today, thousands of seminary girls were there on time to fill the plaza and give the police the excuse it needed. Yes, the story today is the police. The decision by the police to confine WOW to a parking lot; the decision that many of the people present believe was preordained, prearranged. The police just seemed too ready, too practiced in its handling of the situation for it to be an improvisation. Today the people in uniform had an opportunity to signal to the courts that implementing the ruling on WOW isn't going to be a walk in the park – and they seized on this opportunity, maybe even utilizing it.   

So here we have it: the court has spoken. But it is hardly the last word on this matter. Guarding WOW, enabling their monthly prayer, protecting the ruling, has a cost- and the police force obviously doesn't want to be the one picking up the bill.

2.

Next month is going to be even trickier than this one. The court will be asked yet again to clarify to the police that it has to enable the group prayer. I'm not sure it will, and in what language. Haredis will yet again send seminary girls to the plaza – the beginning of the month of Elul is a date in which the Kotel will be packed anyhow. WOW will show up yet again with the backup support of politicians and other hitchhikers. Haredis are right to imply that "those people" don't care as much for prayer or the Kotel as they do for harassing the rabbis. "Those people" will rightly explain that this isn't about prayer or belief in God, but rather about human rights and respect for the rule of law. The police, yet again, will be caught between a rock and a hard place. With politicians and a lot of press around, preventing WoW prayer is going to have a higher price in public opinion. On the other hand, blocking Haredis from reaching the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Elul is not something that can be done lightly. The battle is on.

3.

Which is why the Sharansky compromise is still needed, and why all the people involved should have clearer heads today – following the events of this morning. If WOW and their supporters think that they no longer need a compromise – bad news, they still do. If Haredis think they had the last word, next month can prove them wrong, as it did last month. If the government, if the Prime Minister that is, has somehow deluded himself that this item can be deleted off the agenda – he was wrong. A repetition of today on Rosh Chodesh Elul would make the WOW battle a likely number one topic for Jewish High Holiday sermons across North America (for more about the necessity for compromise, read Arnie Eisen's Jews of the Wall – h/t: Mosaic). 

4.

The compromise is needed, but it's becoming more difficult to believe that the Israeli government is serious about it. If the government is serious about the compromise, it should not leave it to the police to humiliate WOW. If it's serious, it should demonstrate it to the leaders of the progressive movements that negotiated with Sharansky. If it's serious, it can't possibly expect everyone to wait patiently until Netanyahu's new staff educates itself about the sensitivities of US Jewry.

Is it serious? Today might serve as a resounding no. 

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