NY Times joins provocateurs at Western Wall

Leo Rennert
The Western Wall in the heart of Jerusalem is one of Judaism's holiest sites.  But it also has been the focus of protests in recent years.

A group known as Women of the Wall is demanding gender equality for prayers at the site.  They want to be allowed to wear prayer shawls and to pray with men on an equal footing.  Once a month, Women of the Wall have staged protest demonstrations, picking up support from liberal Jews but meeting with resistance from Orthodox Jews.

To defuse the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, to develop an acceptable compromise -- no small task.  In the meantime, Naftali Bennett, the minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs, provided an interim equal-gender prayer plaza near the Wall -- while further steps await to develop a permanent mixed-prayer section.

The interim step struck a positive chord with leaders of the U.S. Conservative and Reform movements, which had supported the women's equal treatment strivings.  Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called it a "very nice step," albeit a small one.  Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly, welcomed it as "important steps forward."

Only the Women of the Wall tossed it aside, calling the new prayer plaza for men and women a "monstrosity" that looks like a "sunbathing deck" or a "rock-star state."  Such media-fueling outbursts have been a hallmark of Women of the Wall.  But this time, Women of the Wall have been left isolated as they show their true colors, putting their provocateur personas ahead of genuine pursuit of gender equality.  In short, Women of the Wall have demonstrated that they can't take a yes or even a maybe to a constructive response to their demands.

Well, perhaps they're not entirely isolated.  Because Women of the Wall are still able to claim at least one source of support -- the New York Times.

In an Aug. 26 article atop the international news section, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren writes about the latest developments regarding prayer-equality at the Wall.  Does she lead with the positive reaction of Conservative and Reform Jews?  Not exactly.  Rudoren and the Times still put Women of the Wall über alles.

Thus the lead paragraph: "Trying to calm months of intense wrangling over the Western Wall, Israeli officials on Sunday unveiled a new plaza where men and women can pray together.  But the move was immediately denounced as discriminatory by the main group that has protested the rules of the holy site" -- i.e., Women of the Wall.

Positive comments of leaders of the Conservative and Reform Movements are relegated to the next-to-last and last paragraphs.  In journalistic jargon, this is known as burying the lead.

Oh, and the headline over Rudoren's inflammatory dispatch reads: "Prayer Plaza For Both Sexes Ignites Uproar In Jerusalem."

The New York Times and Women of the Wall are thus joining hands as premier provocateurs to inflame an issue just as it's been doused.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.

The Western Wall in the heart of Jerusalem is one of Judaism's holiest sites.  But it also has been the focus of protests in recent years.

A group known as Women of the Wall is demanding gender equality for prayers at the site.  They want to be allowed to wear prayer shawls and to pray with men on an equal footing.  Once a month, Women of the Wall have staged protest demonstrations, picking up support from liberal Jews but meeting with resistance from Orthodox Jews.

To defuse the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, to develop an acceptable compromise -- no small task.  In the meantime, Naftali Bennett, the minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs, provided an interim equal-gender prayer plaza near the Wall -- while further steps await to develop a permanent mixed-prayer section.

The interim step struck a positive chord with leaders of the U.S. Conservative and Reform movements, which had supported the women's equal treatment strivings.  Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called it a "very nice step," albeit a small one.  Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly, welcomed it as "important steps forward."

Only the Women of the Wall tossed it aside, calling the new prayer plaza for men and women a "monstrosity" that looks like a "sunbathing deck" or a "rock-star state."  Such media-fueling outbursts have been a hallmark of Women of the Wall.  But this time, Women of the Wall have been left isolated as they show their true colors, putting their provocateur personas ahead of genuine pursuit of gender equality.  In short, Women of the Wall have demonstrated that they can't take a yes or even a maybe to a constructive response to their demands.

Well, perhaps they're not entirely isolated.  Because Women of the Wall are still able to claim at least one source of support -- the New York Times.

In an Aug. 26 article atop the international news section, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren writes about the latest developments regarding prayer-equality at the Wall.  Does she lead with the positive reaction of Conservative and Reform Jews?  Not exactly.  Rudoren and the Times still put Women of the Wall über alles.

Thus the lead paragraph: "Trying to calm months of intense wrangling over the Western Wall, Israeli officials on Sunday unveiled a new plaza where men and women can pray together.  But the move was immediately denounced as discriminatory by the main group that has protested the rules of the holy site" -- i.e., Women of the Wall.

Positive comments of leaders of the Conservative and Reform Movements are relegated to the next-to-last and last paragraphs.  In journalistic jargon, this is known as burying the lead.

Oh, and the headline over Rudoren's inflammatory dispatch reads: "Prayer Plaza For Both Sexes Ignites Uproar In Jerusalem."

The New York Times and Women of the Wall are thus joining hands as premier provocateurs to inflame an issue just as it's been doused.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.