Artificial Beach Creates Political Sandstorm in Jerusalem

Feelings running high between ultra-Orthodox and municipality, with the latter threatening lawsuit against Haredi paper.

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The artificial beach at the First Station complex in Jerusalem.
The artificial beach at the First Station complex in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Tensions between secular and ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem have been focused on three particular issues in recent months: The fight to close Hanevi’im Street on Saturdays; a store that remains open near there on Saturdays; and an artificial beach situated within the First Station complex on Emek Refaim Street.

The political backdrop to the ultra-Orthodox protests are different from before. The United Torah Judaism party is an important faction in mayor Nir Barkat’s city council coalition, but tension between the two is escalating.

Ultra-Orthodox council members say that harsh complaints have been filed by Haredi residents against local authorities, primarily within mixed neighborhoods, as well as neighborhoods that have become predominately ultra-Orthodox within recent years, such as Ramot and Neve Yaakov.

Complaints primarily focus primarily on ultra-Orthodox demands to increase housing construction, as well as more classroom space, public structures and synagogues. The ultra-Orthodox also claim they’ve been excluded from community centers in mixed neighborhoods.

The Shabbat issue is only part of the story, but the newspaper Yated Ne’eman put the issue in its sights last Thursday. A sensational headline and article featured a story on the new artificial beach at the First Station complex, near Liberty Bell Park. “Scandal: The Jerusalem municipality intends next week to open a huge complex for Shabbat-violators and terrible deeds,” proclaimed the article, which also said the complex is part of “a long chain of persecution and harassment of all things sacred by mayor Nir Barkat.”

The municipality has threatened the paper with a libel suit, stating that the site is run by private entrepreneurs. However, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said that “the municipality has the power to permit or forbid – for private entrepreneurs as well – running sites that harm residents’ sensibilities.”

Although the entertainment site was opened last weekend without any disturbances, the ultra-Orthodox have threatened to issue decrees against the complex, which has been open since 2012.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, a leader in the ultra-Orthodox community, has published a letter calling the complex an “abomination, unheard of, where they frighteningly violate the sanctity of the Holy City.

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