The Kotel Cartel

You may be reading these lines and asking yourself, “What does the struggle of women who want to put on tefillin at the Western Wall have to do with me? I don’t visit the Western Wall and have no intention to start doing so.”

You may be hearing voices, both in Israel and abroad, that strongly criticize the annulment of the “Western Wall Deal” and are asking yourself: “What does this unnecessary struggle have to do with me? How will this affect me tomorrow morning?”

These arguments are quite familiar to me. Is the debate about the height of the mechitzah between sections of a Temple that was destroyed 2,000 years ago not a luxury – when considering that the State of Israel is currently struggling with security challenges and has been already struggling for its survival for the past seventy years?

Well, no. It’s not a luxury.

For survival is not a value in and of itself . . . . it is an instinct, at most. A state must be built around values, such as democracy, justice and mutual respect. Only animals govern their lives by instinct.

The “Western Wall Deal” is simply a symptom of a broader, more dangerous and disturbing phenomenon. The religious parties in Israel have been running politics like a cartel. It has now become abundantly clear to all that a handful of people who despise the values ​​of democracy also form the coalition anchor in Netanyahu’s government.

You may not have planned to visit the Western Wall in the near future, but the extortion of the ultra-Orthodox parties will ultimately affect all public spaces in the State of Israel and will eventually enter our lives, if not through the door than through the window.

This ultra-Orthodox dynamic already dictates how all Jewish citizens get married and divorced in the State of Israel and who is Jewish according to their restrictive and narrow standards. Soon, the internal dynamics of the “Kotel Cartel” in the State of Israel will lead to the cartel’s branching out into other enterprises, such that we will no longer be able to ignore their control of our lives.

That’s how it is with power: if you begin satisfying its hunger, it will only want more. Just look at Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug baron who started off his career by stealing cars and tombstones and almost became his country’s president: If you pursue power and you have no inhibitions, why settle for just a small portion?

If you are reading these lines and asking yourself “How is this my struggle?” – you may be like that frog in the pot of boiling water. If we throw the frog into the pot, it will try to escape. But if we put it in a pot with lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, the frog will sit in the water (although nothing prevents it from hopping out) … until it is cooked.

The frog does not jump out of the pot because it cannot identify the danger. Reality changes so gradually that the frog’s body cannot respond in time. And when the situation became extreme, the frog is already helpless and unable to jump.

There will be the secular among us who will say: but the ultra-Orthodox are the only ones that are flying the flag of the Torah (what exactly does that mean??) and without them, the monster of assimilation would have trampled us all!

But religious extortion has once again proven that in the State of Israel, religious conservatism has long ago given way to religious fanaticism and that in a struggle against assimilation, we have been struck by an even more dangerous blow: fundamentalism, a rift among our people and baseless hatred among brothers.

This is not a deal about the Western Wall, but a deal about the future of the State of Israel. It is about the Cartel, not the Kotel.

About the Author
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski is the Rabbi at Kehillat Netzach Israel, the Masorti (Conservative) congregation in Ashkelon.