The tension between secular and ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood has flared up again, this time because the municipality has just granted exceptional-use permits to two Haredi preschools that had been operating illegally in private apartments and other locations.
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With at least another 10 preschools reportedly waiting in the wings to submit their requests for permits, secular activists suspect that these preschools will serve as the basis for a Haredi school system in the neighborhood that would irreparably change its character.
Ever since ultra-Orthodox families began moving into the largely secular neighborhood several years ago, the local residents have been protesting and resisting the “Haredization” of the neighborhood. Secular elements accuse Mayor Nir Barkat of acquiescing to Haredi demands and putting the status of Kiryat Hayovel as a secular neighborhood at risk.
The first preschool was granted a permit about two weeks ago, while the second got its permit on Wednesday. “What worries us is that there’s no law, there’s no accountability, they do what they want,” said Ronit Gilboa, a member of the neighborhood’s community administration. “They are turning exceptional-use [approvals] into a routine process.”
“It’s not necessarily a story about Haredim and secular people, but about the way they make decisions favoring one population at the expense of another,” Gilboa added.
The confrontation also highlights fault lines in Barkat’s coalition. “Whoever wants to manage the city for a long time successfully [should know that] this isn’t the way,” said Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz, chairman of the Hitorerut faction. According to Berkowitz, solutions for the children could have been found in the neighboring religious neighborhood of Bayit Vegan.
The municipality responded by saying that “the mayor has worked for the past six years more than any other faction to preserve the character of neighborhoods in the city, including Kiryat Yovel, and taken countless actions to this effect, despite the difficulties and challenges in doing so.
“The exceptions are the preschools for the Haredi children up to age six, since the municipality has a moral obligation to allow every child in the city a preschool near his home, to avoid the need to bus small children to distant locations,” the statement continued. “Some of the solutions are in Bayit Vegan, but we cannot provide all the solutions there and an attempt to make it look like that’s possible is false.”