Jerusalem’s Old City
Jerusalem’s Old City, with the Jewish Quarter around the large white dome of the Hurva Synagogue. Photo by Reuters
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Rafi Kotz
Shlomo Atias. Photo by Rafi Kotz

The government-owned Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem is trying to evict a resident because he isn't Jewish.

The resident, an evangelical Christian, works with former minister Benny Elon on forging closer ties between Evangelical Christians and right-wing organizations in Israel. He is renting an apartment from Lorena Sokolovsky, the mother-in-law of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

In September, Sokolovsky received a letter from Silvy Nizri, the company's assets director, which stated: "The company has been informed that you are renting a property on 4 Gilad Street to a person who does not match the company's population criteria and in complete contradiction to the character of the Jewish Quarter. It is well-known that the Jewish Quarter is a quiet neighborhood with a unique character, and needs to be kept this way by the residents, in accordance with the lease agreement between the company and yourself. You are requested to evacuate the property and ensure it is only populated by persons matching the company's population criteria."

Attorneys Shalhevet Rubin and Gabi Ganon wrote back on Sokolovsky's behalf, noting that "your letter is strange, to say the least, and conceals more than it explains." They asked "in what way exactly do you claim the resident does not suit the allegedly quiet neighborhood (in fact, probably one of the busiest and noisiest areas of Jerusalem )." They said their client's tenant "is a fine person in many respects, a quiet and peaceful man, well-integrated into his environment and contributing considerably to the nation, society and the country."

The director of the government company, Shlomo Atias, confirmed to Haaretz yesterday that the reason for the eviction request is that the tenant is not Jewish. "A Christian can live in the Christian Quarter," Atias said. He also said the move was prompted by neighbors' complaints about the man's religion, but another resident of the quarter told Haaretz neighbors had no issue with noise or unusual behavior on the part of the tenant.

"This isn't racism," Atias said. "I have no legal findings and we won't take any legal steps, but the neighbors can go to court if they want to. We approached the landlady following complaints from neighbors that he does not match criteria for living in the quarter, which are having an Israeli ID and being Jewish, not a gentile."

Atias also inaccurately told Haaretz that such discrimination was endorsed by the High Court. The court ruled in 1978 that a Jordanian citizen seeking to return to his home in the Jewish Quarter would not be allowed to do so, because he was not a citizen of Israel, not because of his religion.

The Jewish Quarter company is controlled by the Housing Ministry, and has been administering the quarter since the late 1960s. The appointment of former deputy mayor Atias to run the company last year was seen by many as confirming that it is now controlled by Shas.