A stretch of Tel Aviv’s waterfront promenade was closed off Sunday evening for the wedding of a daughter from a family of hotel owners. The private event, marking the marriage of Olivia, a member of the hotel-owning Trink family, occupied a public space spanning from Tel Aviv’s marina to a nearby lighthouse. Some 150 seats were set up for the honored guests, most of whom appeared to have come from abroad. The renovated pier was turned into a bar with white tables and chairs. Locals and foreign tourists who wished to walk over to the restored lighthouse at the end of the promenade were denied passage.
One pedestrian who happened upon the event and found herself blocked was Tel Aviv city council member Rachel Gilad Wallner of the Ir Lekhulanu (City for All) faction.
"I was on my way to the lighthouse to relax," she said. "Bouncers and security guards barred us from entering. I told the guards this is open public space and I wanted to go in, but they wouldn't let me. “
The city’s deputy city manager for operations, Ruby Zelof, has circulated a letter stating that “holding private events on the grounds of the marina is prohibited.” Nevertheless, the event carried on with no interruption on land managed by Atarim, a company run jointly by the state and by city government.
The city said it “views the incident as a serious matter” and that the event “was held at the site without an advance request for approval and therefore did not comply with municipal regulations.” It was working with Atarim “to see to it this didn’t happen again,” the city said.
Atarim said at first that the wedding was not a one-off occurrence and that private events are held there from time to time, but it later backtracked and said the wedding was indeed a one-time only situation.
According to Wallner, the response from the city constitutes an evasion of responsibility. “Every few months, I get a letter [from the city] and they write that they view the matter as serious,” she said. “Why doesn’t anyone pay the price?”
Tel Aviv has a long history of private entities usurping public space for events linked to the rich and famous. On many occasions, such events have ended in apologies along with pledges that those responsible would be reprimanded. In 2009, when Wallner complained about a Vespa motorcycle display on Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Boulevard, Zelof, the deputy city manager, wrote the city councilwoman telling her the “error was looked into and procedures were made clearer, all with the intention that this not be repeated.” The following year, Gindi Investments, a real estate firm, rented out the lobby of the Mann Auditorium (now Charles Bronfman Auditorium) to promote the apartments it was building on the site of Tel Aviv’s wholesale market. Following media coverage of the incident, the municipality said it had drawn the appropriate lessons with respect to the use of public facilities.
Another event that year prompted public ire once again, however. Cellular services provider Cellcom sponsored a picnic at Yarkon Park. And in 2012, the pier at the Tel Aviv Port was closed off for a home decorating event, following which Zelof insisted that it was made clear that “public spaces were for the use of the public at large.”
Wallner has documented each of these instances in her campaign to put an end to them, but the city refuses to divulge how much the city or city-owned companies were paid for the use of public property.
“[Officials] are always reprimanded,” Wallner said. “We [the members of the public] get fined.”