Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, like an unsavory realtor, is trying to spin a Western Wall agreement — touting the existing rickety, wooden, scaffold platform as a penthouse with a prime panoramic view. He wants to convince us that this is a worthy “new” compromise. Neither new nor worthy, it is not a compromise to which we will ever agree.
Last week, Bennett said the government’s decision to halt the Kotel Agreement was a slap in the face to Diaspora Jewry (he forgot about women, of course). Today, he claimed that the mistake was the timing and way it was done, i.e., not the decision itself.
As minister of Diaspora Affairs, he is supposed to look out for the interests of Diaspora Jews. Instead, he is working on semantics and reshaping reality by describing “fake actuality.”
So what is the reality? In 2014, Bennett built a wooden platform overnight. It’s a pitiful structure built atop ruins and garbage, which doesn’t reach the Western Wall, and is frankly no more than a sundeck. In an improvised video released on social networks, Master of Spin Bennett brands himself as savior of Jewish unity. We immediately went to see this architectural wonder and showed it for what it is: a hastily built “sundeck,” reached through a narrow hidden gate and rickety stairs. Not a place to inspire any feelings of holiness even from the most devout worshiper.
As that attempt to sell us an inferior platform for women and “second-rate” Jews didn’t work, Prime Minister Netanyahu invited Women of the Wall and representatives from the liberal Jewish world, to enter into roundtable negotiations, which lasted 900 days. The result was the Kotel Agreement, passed by the Israeli government a year and a half ago, nullified by the same ministers last week.
What can a minister of Diaspora Affairs say after his constituency has been lied to, betrayed and deceived? Construct a Spin — deceive some more; talk about a “new” agreement (struck between him and the ultra-Orthodox ministers) and try to sell it to all of them as a penthouse with prime view. But it isn’t.
The agreement had three parts. The first was the physical aspect — what would our holy site look like? It would be majestic, dignified with a wide entrance leading from the main plaza to all the prayer spaces — men, women and egalitarian. We would not be hidden away like a dirty secret. Very different from what Bennett is attempting to pitch to us now. The other two parts concerned an independent governing body and proper funds. Those parts of the agreement Bennett expects us to forget about, as if they were not negotiated for three years. They are far too vital to allow this disappearing act.
We, women and men representing different ways of worship must run the new plaza. If we don’t, sooner than you can imagine, the rabbi of the Wall and the same ultra-Orthodox men running the Orthodox plaza will decide who can pray, how they must dress, and much more. We must be able to govern our egalitarian plaza and this is not negotiable any more.
Last and not least is government funding. Rabbi Rabinowitz receives vast funds to run the Western Wall. Any woman knows that one needs financial stability to be truly independent. We must be able to have funding to run our prayer plaza: building, maintaining, guards etc.
So when you hear Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett trying to mollify you, selling the sundeck as a good viable option, using phrases such as “another compromise for the unity of the Jewish people,” remember this: We already made our concessions a year and a half ago. We don’t buy into the spin. We won’t buy this shack masqueraded as a penthouse with prime view.
Lesley Sachs is the executive director of Women of the Wall.