Sharansky Plan Hits a Wall, no pun intended
We previously reported on our concerns regarding plans for new prayer arrangements at the Western Wall, designed and promoted by Natan Sharansky and warmly embraced by the American Jewish community. Our initial analysis was that, barring opposition to the plan from some serious player – like the Israel Antiquities Authorities or the Orthodox Jewish leadership inside Israel – the plan would continue to gather political momentum.
Now, with some unforeseen developments, it appears that the Sharansky plan is hitting a wall (no pun intended).
On April 25, a Jerusalem court ruled that the state could not arrest women for their activities at the Western Wall (also here). The ruling was a legal triumph for Women of the Wall, a group that from the start has seeking full rights to women’s prayer at the existing women’s section of the Wall, NOT the establishment of a new “pluralistic” or “egalitarian” area where anyone can pray as they like, while restrictions in the women’s section remain in place (as proposed by Sharansky).
Following the court ruling, Women of the Wall withdrew support for the Sharanksy plan, stating that the plan was “completely not relevant for us.” In parallel, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, issued a statement expressing casting doubt on his support for the plan as well. Rabinowitz has also made clear his adamant opposition to the court’s ruling. Headlines in the Israeli and Jewish media make clear that a new dynamic has taken over: Foundations falter for Sharansky’s Western Wall plan (Times of Israel, May 1); Sharansky’s Kotel compromise plan loses wall-to-wall support(Haaretz, April 30); Court Ruling Makes Sharansky Kotel Plan Moot(Tablet, April 30).
All of this is good news. The prospects for averting a highly provocative and destabilizing chain of events in one of the most politically and religiously sensitive pieces of real estate on earth appear to be improving. That said, it is important to realize that it is far from clear that the Sharanksy plan is going to go away. There are still major players for whom the creation of a gender-equal prayer area is important, and for highly admirable reasons. In addition, there are still many others willing to abuse these aspirations in the service of a less admirable nationalistic agenda. To date, there is no indication that anyone in a position of authority has decided to take into account the politically/religiously provocative implications of the plan, or to factor in the views/interests of other stakeholders (i.e., the Waqf, Jordan).