Jerusalem City Hall Calls New Elections in Neighborhood That Screened Films on Shabbat

Municipality calls new election for neighborhood’s community council in Kiryat Yovel, an increasingly ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, sparking secular anger.

Nir Barkat in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, 2015.
Amit Shabi

After films were screened on Shabbat in the community center in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, the municipality has decided on new elections for the neighborhood’s community council.

On Tuesday, members of the three pluralistic parties on the city council – Meretz, Yerushalmim and Hitorerut, the latter two being members of the city's governing coalition – met to forge a united front against Mayor Nir Barkat over this issue. In the end, however, they could not come to an agreement on the wording of a protest letter or on an effective threat.

Kiryat Yovel has seen recurring tensions between its veteran secular population and the ultra-Orthodox families who began moving into the neighborhood over a decade ago. Barkat’s office rejected the allegations of heavy-handedness in Kiryat Yovel, saying elections for the community administration were due in any case. “Preserving the character of the neighborhood is very important to the mayor and he hasn’t changed his position on the matter,” associates of the mayor said.

As in all neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Kiryat Yovel has a community administration (minhal in Hebrew), which has considerable authority relative to similar bodies in other cities. Elections for the Kiryat Yovel minhal were to take place at the end of the year, but recently the municipality announced that they would take place in three months, although a new proposal raised Wednesday would schedule them for June.

The announcement came shortly after the community administration allowed movies to be screened on Friday nights and Saturday mornings in the local community center. The screenings were a big success, with the 220-seat hall full at all the showings.

A Shabbat screening at the Kiryat Yovel center.
Courtesy of K.Yovel Center

“The screenings on Shabbat were at the request of the public,” said the head of the Yuvalim administration, Roni Sharon. “We work on Shabbat anyway; there’s a pool and a gym, so what difference does it make?”

But upon learning of the screenings, 16 religious members of the city council demanded that Barkat “punish” the community administration by withholding funding and by dissolving the current administration and holding new elections.

“From our perspective the message is that there’s a price for messing with the status quo in Jerusalem,” said United Torah Judaism councilor Yitzhak Pindrus.

Four years ago there were elections for several community administrations, but there are many neighborhoods where there have been no elections for many years. The city has now decided to hold elections for all Jerusalem’s community administrations this year, but local sources said the decision was made to blur the agreement with the Haredi parties about Kiryat Yovel.

The city denied this. “According to municipal regulations, once every four years there are elections for all the community administrations in the city; therefore, the city intends to hold elections for all the administrations, including Yuvalim.”