In January, the Mendelblit plan for a third pluralistic section of the Kotel was announced after two-and-a –half years of negotiations. The negotiators included government officials, the administrator of the Kotel, the Jewish Agency, Conservative/Masorti, Reform, WoW, and the federations of North America. Was it everything we wanted? No. No compromise is.
The Mendelblit plan essentially would give Jews an un-hardified spiritual space (the Southern plaza) to pray at; as seamless a part of the Northern Kotel plaza as possible with a common entrance. The third section would have its own governance and budget and the Northern plaza would remain under the governance of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The upper Kotel plaza would revert back to a place for all Israelis, a place where national ceremonies national ceremonies would be held where women could be seen and heard.
It appeared that the Israel government was finally recognizing that there is more than one way to be Jewish and that not all Israelis, and certainly not all Jews can or want to pray in a haredi manor. The haredi control of Judaism and Jewish holy places that has strangled so much of religious and public life in Israel was finally going to end
The Kotel plan was effectively a roadmap but to date, none of the steps have been implemented by the government. Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to pressure from the haredi parties that threatened to leave the coalition and topple the government if their demands were not met. He gave the extremists time to present new demands and instructed his bureau chief David Sharan, now government secretary, to draft a new recommendation within 60 days. His proposal was slated to go before the Knesset on yesterday.
Sharan met with the haredim leadership in response to the objections raised by the Hared parties. These objections according to various news sources are anything that looked like official recognition of “Reform” including the shared entrance and the governance of the new section. The Kotel administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz has aligned himself with the haredi parties even though he was a part of the negotiations.
Last week, Sharan met with the Israeli leadership of the liberal movements who are strongly opposed to any major changes in the plan. This week, the heads of United Synagogue, the Rabbinical Assembly, and the Union for Reform Judaism flew to Israel in for an emergency meeting with Netanyahu. Their message was that the Mendelblit plan should not be changed and needs to be implemented.
The prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to the third pluralistic section but has asked for more time. All the parties have agreed to his request.
The sad thing is that these meetings were necessary. The sadder thing is that we allow 10 percent of the population to bully the rest of us. The haredim have too much to lose to leave the coalition. It is time to call their bluff.
We are at a turning point, and if we continue to refuse the rights of the non-haredim to pray freely at the Kotel, we run the risk of further alienating Diaspora Jews. If we truly believe in Klal Yisrael then we need to implement the Mendelblit plan and not give in to blackmail. If not now, When?