Jerusalem Cinema Complex Bows to Pressure, Agrees to Stay Closed on Shabbat

Cinema City accepts terms set by mayor and ultra-Orthodox factions that seek to maintain the religious status quo in the city.

The Cinema City complex in Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

Jerusalem’s Cinema City complex will remain closed on Shabbat, the owners told the High Court of Justice on Sunday, thus accepting the terms set by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the ultra-Orthodox factions on the City Council that seek to maintain the religious status quo in the city.

Haaretz has learned that the municipality pressured the developers to announce that they would make do with operating the complex six days a week, among other reasons because of the losses they are incurring. They are now expecting financial assistance from the city.

The developers told the High Court that they had “considered their position with regard to opening the Cinema City complex on rest days and decided that at this time, they do not intend to operate the complex on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.”

The developers’ statement to the High Court comes in response to a petition before the court by attorney Yossi Havilio and the Awakening faction on the City Council, to instruct the mayor to permit the developers to open the complex, which is on municipal and state land, on Shabbat.

About 18 months ago the court instructed the parties, including the municipality and the Finance Ministry, to negotiate the opening times of the complex. These negotiations were never held and the developers, in a reversal of their previous position, have now informed the court that they are not necessary because they no longer want to open the complex on the Sabbath and holidays.

“At this time the developers believe that there is no need to continue negotiations with the municipality and the Finance Ministry over the matter of the petition. However, the developers reserve the right to revisit the matter vis a vis the city and the Finance Ministry to move ahead on opening the complex on rest days and the conditions for doing so, and if need be, to petition the authorized court,” the developers' statement to the court said.

Source: City pressured developers

According to a source in the municipality, pressure was brought to bear on the developers to make the statement to the court now, considering the low profits of the complex in light of security concerns in the city, and the owners’ expectation that the municipality will now assist the complex in various ways.

According to Meretz City Councilwoman Laura Wharton, Cinema City has recently received priority in city funding for conferences held on its premises. “There are dozens and hundreds of places in Jerusalem to hold conferences, some that are owned by municipal subsidiary companies. It is unreasonable and improper for these events to be held at Cinema City out of all the places in the city,” she said.

The municipality said: “Many movie theaters operate on Shabbat in Jerusalem in keeping with the status quo. Recently the new Yes Planet opened with 16 theaters, alongside the Cinematheque, Semadar and Beit Shmuel, which are in private hands.”

Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch (United Torah Judaism) called the decision “a victory for sanity and maintenance of the delicate status quo in Jerusalem,” adding: “The management realized that most of the public in Jerusalem maintain tradition and prefers to avoid unnecessary wars between religious and secular people” Deitch said he regretted that Awakening and other factions “are working to spark conflict in the city.”

Deputy Mayor Yisrael Kellerman, also of United Torah Judaism, said: “Those who are trying to spark conflict are a number of representatives of neighborhoods and parties that all they care about is rhetoric that will help them get elected to the City Council in the election less than a year away.”

Havilio, the attorney who petitioned the High Court on the matter, said he “utterly rejects” Cinema City’s statement to the court, which he said amounted to “defrauding the court and the public,” adding “first it was Barkat making a laughing stock of the court and the public and now it is the developers, I hope they aren’t working together.”

Havilio said he would continue the case on the argument that the developers were in contempt of court, and would ask that they and the city be required to open the complex on Shabbat, and called on the public to boycott the complex until it agreed to do so.

MK Mickey Levi (Yesh Atid) called the decision by Cinema City management “cowardly” and said it had nothing to do with the status quo. “The management is making an embarrassing U-turn only because of political pressure. During my term as deputy finance minister we lifted the objection to opening the complex on Saturdays when we realized that the management wanted to do so based on a strong economic basis for opening on Shabbat. Jerusalem belongs to everyone who lives here, including secular people.”