Despite Haredi Opposition, Barkat Lends His Voice to Operas Performed in Church

Jerusalem deputy mayors pressure Mayor Nir Barkat to withdraw funding from opera festival; Barkat agrees to remove city's logo from some publicity materials, but program of festival will not be changed.

Four of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's deputies have asked him to withdraw municipal sponsorship from a June opera festival in the capital because some of the performances will be held in churches, opening up a new front in Jerusalem's religious wars.

Barkat has agreed to consider removing the city's logo from some of the publicity materials, but told religious officials that the program itself will not be changed.

Last week the four deputy mayors - three are ultra-Orthodox and the other is religious Zionist - submitted a motion to the city council demanding that municipal bodies refrain from initiating or promoting events that could cause Jews to violate religious prohibitions.

"Extra caution shall be exercised when holding events in churches and other locations that Jews are forbidden to enter, on pain of death, by virtue of the prohibition against idol worship," the motion stated.

Meretz party representatives on the city council sent a letter to Barkat expressing their displeasure with the motion advanced by their religious colleagues.

"It's time the Haredim realized that Jerusalem is not a city bound by religious law, but rather a free city that lives in compliance with the Declaration of Independence, and that they do not have a monopoly on the Jewish religion," the council members said.

The festival, which will take place June 2-6 and is being produced by the Israeli Opera with the support of the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority and other institutions, is to include around 30 performances in various sites around the capital, including several churches.

Some of the performances are scheduled to take place on Shabbat, another bone of contention for Haredim.

In meetings this week with the deputy mayors opposed to the church performances and with the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, Barkat made it clear that he had no intention of changing the program of the festival and said similar events had been held in Jerusalem churches, with the city's support, during the term of his Haredi predecessor, Uri Lupolianski.

Nevertheless, Barkat was apparently leaning toward agreeing to remove the city's seal from the few promotional materials for the festival that have not yet been distributed.

"As is known, there are Jews, Christians and Muslims living in the united city of Jerusalem," the municipality said in a statement. "The Jerusalem municipality and the government of Israel are committed to acting with sensitivity and to taking into consideration all of the populations, demographic groups, visitors and tourists in the city."