Jerusalem Turning Over Most Municipal Properties to ultra-Orthodox Groups

Phenomenon persists even in secular, mixed neighborhoods, survey shows

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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A building allocated for ultra-orthodox studies in Jerusalem's Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood.
A building allocated for ultra-orthodox studies in Jerusalem's Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood. Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Around 80 percent of the municipal properties that Jerusalem has turned over to private organizations over the last four years have been allocated for the use of ultra-Orthodox organizations, a municipal survey found.

The survey, conducted by the municipality’s property allocation committee, found that even in secular and mixed neighborhoods, most of the buildings and vacant lots were earmarked for ultra-Orthodox schools and synagogues.

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City Councilwoman Laura Wharton reviewed 257 decisions made by the property allocation committee from 2017-20.

The committee’s job is to decide which organizations should be allowed to use which municipal properties for public purposes.

Usually, the organizations pay only a nominal fee for the property’s use. Sometimes the city even renovates the buildings at its own expense.

But most of these properties are handed over to ultra-Orthodox groups, even though Haredim account for only 20 percent of all Jerusalem residents and 35 percent of residents in the city’s western half, where almost all of the properties are located.

Most of the properties given to ultra-Orthodox organizations are earmarked for schools, since the Haredi population is young and requires an ever-increasing number of classrooms.

“In this way, the city has effectively provided significant funding for ultra-Orthodox education,” Wharton said. “For secular private schools, rent is a very major budget item.”

It’s true that there are many public schools for secular and religious Zionist students, she added, “but you have to remember that they teach what the state has decided ought to be taught. The ultra-Orthodox receive both funding and the freedom not to teach the core curriculum,” Wharton said.

A report issued last year by the city’s comptroller concluded that the property allocation process is not transparent, that many organizations never signed a formal contract with the city for the buildings they use and that some of them even use the buildings for commercial purposes, which is against the law.

Secular activists said that ultra-Orthodox groups actively work to locate available municipal properties and then ask the city for permission to use them.

Secular organizations, in contrast, are less familiar with both the system and their rights, and therefore end up not getting buildings allocated to them and having to rent them instead, the activists said.

“The management and use of municipal properties are extremely important and reflect the order of priorities no less than budgetary allocations do,” Wharton said.

“In Jerusalem, most are given for free to ultra-Orthodox organizations, even though they are a minority in the city, while allocations to organizations engaged in culture, social welfare and leisure activities for the secular community are extremely rare.”

When it comes to asset allocation policy, Mayor Moshe Leon has been no different than his predecessor, Nir Barkat, she added.

In a written response, the city said that all its properties are allocated to nonprofit organizations in accordance with Interior Ministry regulations and criteria, the city’s own zoning plan and the needs of particular neighborhoods. All applications for the use of a property are examined in accordance with fixed criteria and with no distinction between different segments of the population, it added.

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