The Western Wall underground tunnel exposes the full length of the Kotel to which it is adjacent, under the buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem. The open-air portion of the Western Wall is approximately 200 ft long, but the majority of its original length is hidden underground, and the tunnel allows access to an additional 1,591 ft of the wall. The area underground is full of crisscrossing tunnels and wide halls, one of which is presumed to be very close to the holy sanctuary on the Temple Mount. In that hall, a new synagogue is being planned, paid for by a generous donation from billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, who owns both the New York Plaza Hotel and the energy conglomerate Delek Group. According to Israel’s Channel 2 News, architect Gal Naor, Tshuva’s daughter, was hired to design the synagogue.
Internal documents of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a governmental non-profit organization that operates under the Prime Minister’s Office, reveal plans for the Yitzhak Tshuva Hall that were sent to the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the comment: “The project is progressing, Yitzhak Tshuva’s daughter was made the project’s architect. After the plan is finalized it will be sent for your approval.”
The fact is that legally the WWHF is not required to submit plans for approval by governmental planning committees, because it is classified as a project of the “rescue excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority.” But in terms of the transparency so many in Netanyahu’s government have been demanding—rightfully so, the revelation is problematic, and left-wing NGOs have already jumped on the story—which is obviously how the news channel found out about it.
“Yitzhak Tshuva’s daughter” as the document refers to architect Naor, is not expected to be paid for this project, while her father has donated about $1.75 million a year in 2013 and 2014 to the project (through the Delek Science, Education and Culture Foundation, which are, essentially, public funds). Still, she’ll presumably add this very prestigious project to her resume without any due process in her hiring. Her other big job: redesigning the NY Plaza Hotel. But she’s also done The Link on 52nd Street and 8th Avenue, a new 48-story building with around 200 apartments; Astor Place 21, a preserved building near Cooper Union; Hugh O’niell, a preserved building in Chelsea; and Grand Madison, a preserved building in Manhattan with 200 planned apartments, lofts, and duplexes.
The Delek Foundation responded in a statement that it is proud to donate to so many institutions that promote science, education and culture in Israel — which is nice but doesn’t really explain whether it is also proud to promote nepotism in Israel, because heaven knows, if there’s one thing Israel has plenty of…
The WWHF also issued a statement saying that architect Naor has a rich international experience, was added to the design team as a representative of the donor, and works voluntarily.
Actually, that last part was transparent enough.