Bibi’s Biggest Blunder


If anyone needs more tangible proof that internal divisiveness threatens Israel’s survival as much as hostile outside forces, if not more so, the decision by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the historic agreement for a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall proves the point powerfully.

For years, women had been harassed by members of the ultra-Orthodox community. Reform and Conservative Jews complained that their status as Jews has been constantly challenged and that the Kotel, or Western Wall, the holiest site in the Jewish religion, had become a symbol that non-Orthodox Jews were second-class citizens.

Under a sensible compromise reached in January 2016, a third plaza at the Kotel would be built for egalitarian prayer services. Netanyahu’s own government negotiated the deal in response to the years of requests by such groups as Women of the Wall, who wanted to pray with equal status rather than being required to have a separation barrier between men and women as is the Orthodox practice.

But ultra-Orthodox leaders threatened Netanyahu: If he did not cave in to their demands, they would topple his government by bolting his coalition. Now, the Jerusalem Post reports, “the haredim, the ultra-Orthodox, wanted the Kotel deal dead and that is what they got.”  The newspaper properly labeled the decision to “freeze” the plan at the Kotel as “shameful.”


Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet Jewish Prisoner of Zion and now head of the Jewish Agency — one of the true heroes of the Jewish people — painstakingly negotiated with all factions to achieve the earlier deal.  He is said to be deeply disappointed by this ill-advised and destructive decision that will drive one more wedge between the Jewish State and the Diaspora, at a time when Israel needs all the friends it can get.

In recent years, the ultra-Orthodox community has become more and more restrictive in its interpretation of halacha, or Jewish law relating to conversions, and it has managed to  achieve hard-line positions on the part of the chief rabbinate of Israel.  The Israeli Cabinet made further concessions to the haredim on conversions at the same meeting it “froze” a decision on the settlements.

Netanyahu, who attended high school in the United States and went to college at MIT, has insisted that no one understands or supports the Diaspora Jewish community more than he does. But his total capitulation to the most extreme fringes of the haredi community illustrates that the tenacious need to cling to power exceeds his empathy for Jews around the world.