Ultra-Orthodox Should Be 'Choked' Out of Neighborhood, Local Jerusalem Leader Says

President Reuven Rivlin condemns the comment, saying it has 'saddened and angered' him.

An ultra-Orthodox man in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

The ultra-Orthodox public should be “choked” so that Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood doesn’t become haredi, the head of the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood administration was quoted as saying in a recording aired on Army Radio on Tuesday.

Yehiel Levi said in the recording that city policy in areas slated for public buildings is to prevent the construction of kindergartens that will become ultra-Orthodox. “Then the entire neighborhood will slowly become Haredi. What’s the idea? To choke them. When you choke them they leave. The idea is to make it difficult and when you make it difficult then they’re not enthusiastic about coming to live [there]. That’s the system that works today.”

Neighborhood administrations, which are unique to Jerusalem, are run jointly by the municipality and the Israel Association of Community Centers. In recent years the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood administration, which represents the neighborhood’s secular residents, has been at the forefront of a fight against the increasingly ultra-Orthodox character of the neighborhood.

Following an initiative to screen movies on Friday nights in the community center, the ultra-Orthodox members of the Jerusalem city council tried to hold up funding to the administration and replace its leadership. Meanwhile, the secular residents of the neighborhood claim that Mayor Nir Barkat broke his promises to them not to provide educational services to the growing ultra-Orthodox community in Kiryat Hayovel.

Following Levi’s comments, Barkat demanded his resignation. “Such harsh and unacceptable comments from a public servant cannot be ignored,” the mayor wrote.

President Reuven Rivlin also condemned Levi’s comments on his Facebook page, saying they had “saddened and angered” him. “Jerusalem, the capital and a city that encompasses Israel’s four tribes, must not become a battleground between residents. Officials in the municipality must not under any circumstances encourage such a conflict. The remarks that were aired disgust every Israeli who hears them,” the president wrote.

In contrast, members of the pluralistic faction on the city council, Yerushalmim, say that Barkat and the ultra-Orthodox factions are taking advantage of Levi’s statements in the struggle over the character of Kiryat Hayovel and the status quo on the Sabbath in the city. Just before discussions on the municipal budget, a statement by the Yerushalmim faction said, “Nir Barkat is choosing to immediately surrender to the Haredi factions without looking into the details of the incident and hearing the arguments” of those involved.

“The content of the recording is harsh and should be condemned. However, it’s clear to anyone who knows a little of the background that these are things that came straight from the heart in a personal conversation,” following years of personal attacks on Levi and an aggressive campaign by the ultra-Orthodox parties against the neighborhood administration, said Itay Gutler, a Yerushalmim city councilman and Kiryat Hayovel resident.