Jerusalem Municipality Trying to Block Reopening of Pub That Operated on Shabbat

City's former legal adviser: Mayor Nir Barkat 'is declaring war on Jerusalem's secular residents'

The Mifletzet pub in the secular Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Or Gueta / The Mifletzet co-op

The Jerusalem municipality is not giving up in its attempt to keep the Mifletzet pub co-op that used to operate on Shabbat in the secular Kiryat Yovel neighborhood shut down, after a court voided the closure order issued by the city.

The Mifletzet Pub was started by local residents about a year ago as a nonprofit cooperative venture. It operated mainly on weekends and hosted a wide array of activities. It was housed in a building that belonged to the neighborhood community center, which supported the project.

Initially, the municipality approved of the pub and started the process of issuing a business license. But last March, after Haredi city council members and the Haredi press claimed the pub was violating the Shabbat status quo, the municipality changed its tune and started piling on requirements for the pub to obtain a business license. Then the municipality filed indictments against the pub’s managers for operating without a business license and issued a closure order. Five months ago, the pub closed down.

Many secular neighborhood residents were angered over the city’s efforts to close down the pub, which they say was in a location where it wouldn’t bother anyone. Attorney Yossi Havilio, the city’s former legal adviser, came to the aid of the co-op members and petitioned the court to cancel the closure order. Havilio argued that a majority of businesses in Israel obtain a business license after opening, and that since the pub already had permits from the police, the fire department and the Health Ministry, no closure order could be issued as long as the owners had not been convicted of an offense.

Last week, Jerusalem’s local affairs’ court accepted Havilio’s position and ordered the closure order voided. The pub’s managers then began preparing to reopen the place this Friday evening, but in the midst of their preparations, no fewer than six city inspectors arrived to look for pretexts to prevent its reopening.

For example, the municipality had claimed the pub could not be issued a business license because the sink in the handicapped bathroom was inaccessible, but the pub managers and city council member Laura Wharton (Meretz) showed that the sink was accessible. Wharton also found out that for years a large, city-owned cultural institution has been operating downtown without a business license or a permit from the fire department, “which just goes to show that this is really about political persecution,” says Wharton.

Yesterday afternoon, the municipality filed an urgent request with the court to renew the closure order, arguing that the pub is operating out of a building that belongs to the municipality and calling the pub’s operators “squatters” – even though the community administration that has had the building for decades is fully supportive of the pub.

“Today we discovered that the Jerusalem municipality can act with amazing efficiency when it comes to blocking the possibility of maintaining a communal gathering place in Kiryat Yovel,” said pub manager Matan Kolerman. “They sent six different inspectors and apparently employed many lawyers to try every possible legal move against us. We expect the city to work just as diligently to find productive solutions that all sides can agree to.”

Havilio was harshly critical of Mayor Nir Barkat, saying that he has “really declared war on the secular public in Jerusalem.”

The municipality responded: “The municipality is adhering to the legal ruling that said the place cannot operate without a business license and without the owners’ consent. Neither of these conditions have been met. It is important to note that a pub being operated by a private party within a community administration center is not an accepted thing anywhere in the country even on weekdays. There would be no problem if the pub were on private property. Jerusalem has many pubs that are open on Shabbat.”

Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz said, “With its moves against the Mifletzet pub, the municipality is hurting the city’s social and civic backbone. This is hurting residents who stepped up and took responsibility, it is hurting Kiryat Yovel and the attempts to preserve the character of the neighborhood. The pub has all the necessary permits to hold its activities. This is attempted intimidation due to Haredi political pressure. We will fight on behalf of the initiative and on behalf of communal life in Kiryat Yovel.”