Opinion

The ultra-Orthodox Ignoramuses Taking Israel Back to the Middle Ages

By freezing the Kotel plan, Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties have bent Netanyahu to their will while stripping away women's rights at the Wall and beyond

Women of the Wall pray with a Torah scroll for the first time at the Western Wall, Jerusalem. 11 February 2016
Michal Fattal

Reading the reports regarding the freezing of the Kotel Agreement, intended to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, I realized the Jewish ultra-Orthodox minority’s threats to break up Israel's governing coalition enabled it to bend not only Prime Minister Netanyahu to its will, but also the rules of space and time and to travel back to the Middle Ages.

Now we call on our women ministers and MKs: Be Wonder Women. Use your powers to prevent women’s exclusion and religious discrimination.

We arrived at the Kotel Agreement at the urging of PM Netanyahu after nearly three years of negotiations. We compromised. We sacrificed. We wanted the Kotel to be the place it’s supposed to be. A place for every Jew, man or woman, of any denomination to have a voice, to feel connected to their faith, their history and their spirituality.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a special cabinet meeting for Jerusalem Day, held in the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City. May 28, 2017
Gali Tibbon/AP

From the moment it was approved by 15-5 vote nearly 18 months ago, the government has done nothing but stall and avoid implementing the agreement. Netanyahu will be remembered as the leader who let a handful of religious ignoramuses strip away the rights of 51% of the population.

We’d like you, women Knesset Members, all 27 and 22.5% of you, making to rise and stand with Women of the Wall. You have a historic mission, bigger than any party and any agenda, to protect the sacred rights of Jewish women to have their voices heard in prayer at the Kotel and around the world.

Be assertive, and powerful, and fearless. Women of the Wall have been fighting this oppression against women by prayer alone, month after month for 28 years. You had to climb up ladders much steeper than the men you serve with at Knesset. We know you’re there, we know you can do it. The question is, will you? Because really, if women's voices are banished from the Western Wall, where else in Israel will we ever be safe?

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairperson of Women of the Wall.