Shlomo Toren
Shlomo Toren

Just some Fake News on the Wall

Netanyahu to millions of Jews: We don’t really want you“. Not some minor Op-Ed by some nobody (yours truly), but by David Horowitz right up front so no one could miss it. Though I am a bit of a news addict, I wasn’t sure what to think or what had transpired. I read the op- ed and tried to understand what the government had decided (note: the op-ed was edited later on Monday for clarity and accuracy), but something did not click. Later in the day, I saw Naftali Bennet’s explanation (Minister of Education and head of the Jewish Home Party) while browsing on Facebook and I realized: I was just getting Fake News.

What is Fake News? There probably isn’t a real definition for it, but, fake news isn’t about Martians or patently false claims, but rather about reality twisted and repackaged, usually to reinforce views prevalently common in society. In this case, David Horowitz’s known dislike for certain politicians and political parties. Horowitz’s dislikes, which he is surely entitled to share (founding editor in chief should give you that right), FAIR, not presenting all the facts, not quite so.

The facts, as I understand them, is that in late January 2016 the government of Israel, in a cabinet meeting, decided on a series of compromises: building a permanent prayer are at the Robinson Arch area, allowing representatives of the Reform, Conservative and Women of the Wall (WOW) a say in the management of the improved site and changing the entrance of the site to make access equivalent to the existing men’s and women’s sections. Sunday, (July 25,  2017) the government decided to freeze the implementation of the compromise, committing only to expanding the existing temporary site.

So what happened in between? Much it seems.

First, even when presented, the compromised faced opposition from the “usual suspects”. The “ultra-Orthodox” (how I dislike that term) Agudath Yisrael, and Shas were less than supportive and part of the Jewish Home Party objected to any step that would infer recognition of either Reform or Conservative Judaism at the Kotel (the Western Wall). Second, whatever concessions the objecting Ministers were willing to swallow was contingent on the compromise as a way to prevent further intervention by the High Court in the day to day management at the Kotel.

Besides the internal opposition within the government, there were three significant sources of opposition: the Wakf (the Moslem Trust), archeologists, and some members of WOW who saw any solution for all women prayer not in the existing Kotel area as demeaning. Technically there was also a problem of how to build an expanded prayer area at the same height as the other Jewish prayer areas, especially without building a permanent replacement for the temporary (now, almost ten years) Mugrabi Bridge.  In short, the seeds of disappointment were there from the start.

Beyond all that, parts of WOW instigated a new petition to the High Court against the State and Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz (Rav HaKotel) in early January this year, and in April this year, the Hight Court ruled that the plan to allow commerce in parts of Tel Aviv.  In short, the status quo vis a vis religious and secular concerns is in flux making compromise a losing proposition for Agudath Yisrael and Shas parties. Evidently, the anger Agudath Yisrael and Shas felt is what forced the government to announce the freezing of the Kotel compromise.

But Horowitz wasn’t interested in dry details but rather in the emotion invested in the issue of how Israel relates to the Reform and Conservative Jews in the USA. His right, but the opinions Horowitz presents (extreme in this case) might cause some to question Times of Israel’s objectivity.

Back to fake news. Part of what is odious about fake news is that sometimes it becomes the news. Exaggeration and sharp and cutting words can easily exasperate an already volatile situation causing a snowball effect. People react, the tones escalate and in no time there is a crisis with empty threats (really? American Jewry is going to cut all ties to Israel?). Endless op-eds are then written, some less concerned with reality than the other (but, heh, if you are a macher,  you will get special treatment).

Here I should add that the Times of Israel did realize that some perspective was needed. Horowitz’s op-ed was edited and an excellent background “There is already pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall. Here’s what would have changed” was posted with a map (joy of joys) and much information for those less informed of the recent history of the Kotel.

It is summer. It is hot, there isn’t all that much news and it is always nice to have a big story to deal with even when in reality there isn’t much new here. Who knows? Maybe the big story next week will be about a jellyfish invasion. At least then, I suppose, Bibi won’t be blamed for it.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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