Women of the Wall demonstration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 7, 2016.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avichai Mandelblit, who negotiated the January Kotel deal between the non-Orthodox movements and the haredi leadership when he was cabinet secretary has announced that he will not fight to enforce the deal in his current capacity as attorney-general.
In a letter responding to MK Tamar Zandberg’s (Meretz) request to him to help unfreeze the deal, provided to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Mandelblit’s top adviser, Dr. Gil Limon, said on his behalf that the issue carried “emphatically political characteristics which do not require the decision of the attorney-general.”
While the Cabinet Secretary has both legal and political hats, technically the attorney-general has only a legal hat.
Mandelblit’s letter response itself was sent on Tuesday, with the prime minister, who was also sent the letter, not having responded.
Zandberg had requested Mandelblit’s intervention in a September 12 letter shot off to him the same day that the High Court of Justice slammed the government and the attorney-general’s office for failing to honor the deal and for defending that failure.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor did not issue a decision against the government to force it to implement the deal at the September 12 hearing, but made a not-so-thinly veiled threat to do so in the near future if the state did not act on its own.
The Mandelblit-led negotiations to resolve disputes over non-orthodox and haredi claims to how prayer should operate at the Kotel lasted two and a half years starting from 2013. They came to fruition on January 31, 2016, when the cabinet approved a government order in a vote of 15 to 5 to adopt the plan drawn up by Mandelblit and his team.
Crucially for Women of the Wall and the Reform and Conservative Movements, it included a joint entrance to the entire site; formal government recognition of the Robinson’s Arch area as a place for pluralist prayer with a governing committee comprising representatives of the progressive Jewish denominations; and a huge upgrade to the site to make it fitting as a national holy site and place of worship.
At the same time, it formally designated the current prayer area at the central Western Wall plaza for Orthodox prayer alone, revoking the right of Women of the Wall to pray there.
Although the haredi parties had initially indicated they would abstain in the cabinet vote, it was eventually decided that they would vote against the plan although there was no decision to thwart it.
The raucous online haredi press was especially critical, while several senior rabbis came out strongly against it, most prominently Chief Rabbi David Lau and Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar.
In late February, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate at the urging of Lau, issued a fierce condemnation of the agreement and of the Reform and Conservative Movements, and demanded the government freeze implementation of the agreement until it had an opportunity to make its own proposals.
In early March the haredi leaders met with the prime minister and threatened to topple Benjamin Netanyahu’s government if the plan was not put on ice.
Netanyahu appointed his bureau chief David Sharan to make bridging proposals between the two sides, but Sharan essentially achieved nothing and has since left his post. To quote one well-placed source only days ago, “the deal is now totally dead.”
In her letter, Zandberg specifically noted that Mandelblit himself had sealed the deal and noted that the state "has not taken a single step to advance the process of implementing the deal."