Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Naftali Bennett kisses the Kotel on the eve of the March 2015 election.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana, both from the Yamina party, are putting the Egalitarian Kotel plan on ice, possibly for the duration of Bennett’s tenure, Shalom Yerushalmi reported in Zman Israel on Sunday (בנט וכהנא מוותרים על מתווה הכותל).

“We choose not to engage in it, for now, period,” Minister Kahana explained to his aides this weekend, according to Yerushalmi. “The Kotel outline has become a hotbed of incitement and hatred, especially by Likud spokespeople who are taking a ride on the outline,” Kahana added, “We must not play into their hands. We are currently leaving the Kotel alone. We’re not touching it.”


The Kotel outline is an arrangement according to which the egalitarian prayer (code for non-Orthodox) plaza was to be expanded at the southern part of the Western Wall. In contrast to the existing situation, access to the plaza was to be from the main entrance to the Kotel, and it was to be managed by a council with representatives of the non-Orthodox denominations and the Women of the Wall. The outline was approved by the Netanyahu government—which included two Haredi coalition partners—in January 2016, but eventually, the same Haredi partners objected fiercely to the outline, forcing Netanyahu to withdraw it, and finally cancel it altogether in June 2017.

In early November, immediately after the government budget had passed, Rotation Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced that “the Kotel outline is the right thing to do on religious grounds, and also regarding our relationship with the Diaspora Jews.” Lapid promised that the outline “has a majority in the government and I hope we will be able to do it before the current Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, leaves office.”

But the Kotel outline is not merely a nice thing the Religious Services Ministry can choose to carry out or cancel on a whim. For one thing, it is anchored in the coalition agreements with Blue&White; Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who thrives on provoking the Haredim to please his voters, has declared that “the Kotel outline and the conversion law are very important to us.” Labor Chairwoman and Transport Minister Merav Michaeli also upheld similar messages, and Labor is also the political home of the former leader of Israel’s Reform movement, MK Gilad Kariv, for whom the outline is the most important on his public agenda.

This means that Yamina’s unilateral decision to freeze the outline could backfire within the coalition, and some of its partners would bash the PM and his minister.

Meanwhile, the right-wing parties have discovered that the Kotel is a surefire issue to get the masses out, and Yerushalmi quotes Likud officials who believe a good Kotel campaign could bring hundreds of thousands to the streets, to join the huge planned Haredi demonstrations.

Two and a half weeks ago, MK Miri Regev (Likud) delivered a fiery speech in the Knesset against the Kotel outline—which she supported in 2016. “If we did not take to the streets for the cost of living, for your lies, for your fraud, we will take to the streets—with me in the lead—to preserve our Kotel, the ting that has preserved the Jewish people, our soul,” Regev declared.

According to Yerushalmi, the speech was written for Regev by Matityahu HaCohen Dan, an expert on Kotel affairs who is the director of the Ateret Kohanim association.


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