Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian
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Neutral space is the only solution for the Kotel

Allocating a separate prayer plaza at the Wall is a victory for haredim and a defeat for Israel's founding principles

Regarding Sharansky-Mandelblit proposals under current consideration: Any solution that enshrines privilege for and domination by ANY stream of Jewish worship at the Kotel – or any public, sacred space in Israel – is terrible, short sighted policy that will come back and bite us in perpetuity.

Any decision driven by the fear of violence by a lawless sector of society, which flouts the authority and very legitimacy of the State of Israel and its laws, rewards and encourages that violence, rewards the political thinking that sees intimidation as a tactic to gain policy goals, and is an unthinkable mistake for any State run by law. You cannot appease this beast. God forbid that our beloved Israel would make this terrible, historic, and irreversible mistake. Like any blackmail, this would be the beginning, not the end, of demands for control of the public sphere, indeed, for obliteration of public, that is, neutral, space, under the domination of no segment of society but available equally to all.

The fantasy that appeasing political haredi-ism will bring peace is precisely that. This – attaining permanent, official, control of the kotel, “winning” this one – would be the triumph that sounded the call to further gains. Surely, anyone with a passing familiarity with the reality of haredi politics knows this.

This struggle is a marathon, not a sprint. A near-term fix is very appealing but we must think well beyond near term. Political haredi-ism is a threat to the very existence of Israel as a State under a common law, binding all, providing for the rights of all, as guaranteed under Israel’s founding document, its Declaration of Independence – including the legitimate rights of haredim to live as they wish.

There must be a resolve, once and for all, to settle this issue and all others about the nature of public space in Israel under the principles stated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which guarantee equal citizenship and equal rights for all. Only this will assure social peace, and a just and rational public policy for Israel.

Shulamit Magnus is an Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College and one of the original founders of Women of the Wall.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history and an award-winning author of books on Jewish modernity and on Jewish women's history.
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