Kotel rabbi: Ferrari event 'grave mistake', lesson learned
Western Wall Heritage Foundation holds internal inquiry into approval given to Ferrari to park 20 vehicles near Western Wall plaza in contravention of law, usual procedure; Wall rabbi says event was a 'grave mistake', stricter regulations will be put in place to bar similar incidents in future; MK Azaria to convene urgent Knesset discussion on matter.
Friday's incident, which drew the ire of a multitude of worshipers at the Western Wall, included 20 Ferrari vehicles driving up to the holy site to the amazement of worshipers and visitors alike.
The Heritage Foundation's senior officials, including Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites Shmuel Rabinovitch and CEO Mordechai (Soli) Eliav, accepted full responsibility for the "grave, unfortunate error" and promised stricter measures are forthcoming.
Sources present at the discussion said Rabi Rabinovitch was agitated by the embarrassing images coming out of the Western Wall, which he received while in the midst of a family event far away from the site.
According to Rabinovitch, directors of the world Ferrari company asked him several weeks ago to park some vehicles for a short time in the Wall's upper plaza during the early morning hours in order to make a tour of Jerusalem—to be held several hours before Shabbat—easier.
Rabinovitch himself rejected the request, but it was made once again and mistakenly approved by one of the Foundation's junior officials. "There was a lack of coordination. I accept full responsibility for it and will not be shifting blame to anyone else. It was a serious error, an unfortunate error, and we're obliged to learn from it so that it doesn't happen again," the rabbi said during the inquiry.
Following the incident, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation's management reached the aforementioned decision to adopt stricter protocols, laying down in writing what was considered obvious: not allowing commercial entities use of the Wall for advertising purposes.
"We won't even allow a can of Coke to be sold here. We're rejecting requests left and right to place beverage vending machines on the site, despite the heat and people's thirst, and end up with a spectacle of 20 sparkling Ferraris? Out of the question," exclaimed the infuriated rabbi.
Rabinovitch then went on to announce that going forward, whenever a suspicion is aroused the Wall is being used for advertising, the Foundation's ceremony committee will take a harsher approach. "We won't be taking the lenient approach of the School of Hillel, but the stricter approach of the School of Shammai. Any request, no matter how big or how small, will be dissected punctiliously," the rabbi demanded.
The case against Ferrari: 'We were misled, we are the victims here'
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation also took to blaming Ferrari for the incident. "While it's true they ended up receiving approval for the stunt, which everybody recognizes was a mistake, they acted without bona fides," claimed a source present at the inquiry.
"They presented it as a specific request for assistance for several businesspeople visiting the Old City and wishing to park their vehicles while the site is mostly empty anyway, and ended up placing dozens of ostentatious luxury vehicles and streamed it live on Facebook for the entire world, the source continued.
"Ferrari wasn't 100 percent honest with us. They attempted to gain something illicit under the guise of mere parking space. We were filled with good intentions and ended up falling victims to their guile," the informed source lamented.
The inner Foundation source then went on to explain the delicate footing the site was under. "You have to remember the Western Wall is not just a holy site but also a tourist attraction, an archeological site and a symbol of the State of Israel, and we have the country's best interests to consider," he said.
"We'll obviously not allow any sacrilege to take place, but an occasional visit by Google's CEO or Britney Spears or an important selfie taken at the site can bring a lot of tourists to Israel. We have to maneuver in all this complexity, and on Friday, we certainly failed in doing that," the source concluded.
The "Auto Italia" company, Ferrari's official Israeli importer, said: "The entire world is currently marking 70 years to the founding of Ferrari. Everything was done with prior coordination and the vehicles were parked in the plaza with prior approval. Nothing was done with the intention of harming the Wall's stature. We believe photos of the vehicles will do a great service to Israel's public relations in the world."
Following Friday's incident, MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) initiated an urgent Knesset discussion on the matter, and what she deemed "Defining clearer rules as to what is permissible in the Western Wall plaza and what isn't."
"The Western Wall Heritage Foundation cannot do as it pleases. The Wall's rabbi determines how women may dress in the plaza, where they can enter and what constitutes a 'decent' woman. There is nothing more indecent, however, than a luxury vehicle showcase at a holy site. Just like the Knesset or Supreme Court cannot be handed over to Ferrari for its own purposes, so must we safeguard the dignity of the heritage site most precious to the Jewish people," she said.
Ferrari parked 20 vehicles in the Western Wall plaza illegally
Jewish worshipers arriving for prayer at the Western Wall Friday morning were astonished to find a row of glimmering Ferrari vehicles parked near the Wall's main plaza, in contravention of a 2011 decision by the National Planning and Building Council deeming parking in the plaza was illegal.
The luxury vehicles were parked there as part of an event organized by Ferrari, commemorating its 70th anniversary with a 20-vehicle journey across Israel.
The vehicles were irregularly allowed to reach as far the main plaza itself, and aroused much curiosity in onlookers.
However, some worshipers were infuriated with the crass commercialization of one of the holiest sites in Judaism, deeming the publicity stunt a "disgrace", "sacrilege" and "shameful."
This was not the first time complaints were levied against affluent people receiving preferential treatment in parking their cars in the Wall's plaza.
The area around the Western Wall is plagued by severe parking hardships, with the Jewish Quarter's parking lot open only to the Quarter's residents and the Mount Zion parking garage intended for buses and security vehicles only. This means thousands of worshipers are forced to park their vehicles in parking lots at least 15 minutes away, or avail themselves of public transportation.