Corridors of Power: The plot thickens

Lupoliansky's announcement that he will establish a secular cemetary might finally make good on a four-year-old promise.

Graves and cemeteries are topics that usually evoke a somber reaction. Mayor Uri Lupolianski's recent announcement that the municipality plans to build a secular cemetery, however, evoked a bitter laugh from this journalist and other residents blessed with a good memory. For a good memory is exactly what so many people must be lacking, or the mayor's public relations maneuver couldn't have been swallowed without question. But for those who don't remember, let us take a stroll down memory lane. In July 2003, the city's newly elected mayor announced that one of his first steps in the position would be to promote the creation of a secular cemetery within the existing Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Givat Shaul. Already then this journalist thought that nice and promising as this sounded, the declaration lacked full disclosure since the creation of secular plots in local cemeteries is a legal obligation and not, as suggested, a favor by the mayor. But lest I be accused of being too harsh, I decided to hush up and even joined the local choir praising the newly elected mayor for his egalitarian attitude. Today I wish I hadn't been so gullible, since almost four years have passed and no secular plot has been created. "According to the law, in every new cemetery or enlargement of an existing cemetery, the local or regional council and planning commission has to allocate a separate plot for secular burial," says Miriam Kunda, director of Menuha Nechona, a national organization that promotes secular burial. A plan to enlarge the Givat Shaul cemetery does in fact exist and even includes two new plots of land. However, the approved plan does not include a secular burial plot, and thus, cannot be carried out since such an omission is against the law. Meanwhile, almost five years later, our dear mayor announces an excellent idea to build a secular plot in the Givat Shaul cemetery. Is it possible that the mayor is cranking up the spin machine ahead of the November elections? According to City Hall spokesman Gidi Schmerling, the first plan - 5246a - is a 350-dunam extension to the cemetery, including a secular plot, that was proposed in 1998. It was discussed a month later by the Local Planning Committee and sent to the District Planning Committee in January 1999. In September 2003 (four months after Lupolianski was elected) the plan was presented to the public. According to Schmerling, there were many public objections, and the District Planning Committee only accepted the plan two weeks ago. Since then, Schmerling adds, the mayor has been promoting another, less grandiose, plan. That plan was proposed in June 2004, discussed for the first time by the Local Planning Committee in June 2005 and discussed again by the District Planning Committee in January. It will be ready to be implemented, apparently, before the larger plan, which is still encountering bureaucratic hurdles. "Plans take a lot of time [to be implemented], especially for cemeteries, and if the mayor weren't pushing it [the secular cemetery] personally, we wouldn't be in this position today," Schmerling says. But let us take a closer look at the situation. As we already know, Lupolianski was not, until now, expected to be the haredi candidate in the mayoral elections. As reports in the Hebrew press last week highlighted, there is a written agreement between the two sections of United Torah Judaism that the party's next candidate will come from the Agudat Yisrael ranks - either MK Meir Porush or Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollack - an agreement that Lupolianski doesn't deny. Still, Lupolianski likes his job, and according to some members of his list, is working hard to convince his patrons in Mea She'arim that he has a better chance of winning than Porush or Pollack. One recent report even implied that an agreement had already been forged allowing Lupolianski to run in the elections. And the best way of becoming the candidate, of course, is to secure support from non-haredim, who may be convinced that this mayor may not be so frightening after all; he even addresses the interests of those who want a secular burial. It could have been an excellent idea. Alas, what a pity that this has nothing to do with the mayor's good will and is just another case of use - or misuse - of the law.