Monster Victory for Jerusalem Pub – a Secular Bastion Under ultra-Orthodox Threat

The place is reopening despite what insiders call the mayor’s efforts to mollify the ultra-Orthdox community ahead of the next election

Revelers celebrate their monster victory in Jerusalem in the fact over the "Monster pub" – a secular bastion that town hall has tried to shut down
Emil Salman

Hundreds of secular Jerusalemites gathered Friday night to celebrate the reopening of the Mifletzet pub – a cooperative open weekends and operated by volunteers who appear to have scored a victory against the city’s ultra-Orthodox community.

The pub in the city’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, which the city closed down four months ago, was able to reopen despite the city’s extraordinary legal battle against it. During the 24 hours before the reopening, the city went to court no less than three times with requests for closure orders. All the requests were denied.

About 10 days ago, Jerusalem’s court for local affairs canceled a closure order against the pub, ruling that Mifletzet – whose name means monster – had all the required health and safety permits. At that point, the pub began preparations to reopen, and the city launched its legal onslaught.

On Thursday, six municipal inspectors were sent to the pub to try to find reasons to close it down. That same day the court denied the city’s requests to have it closed. On Thursday night negotiations between the city and the pub seeking a compromise failed, and on Friday morning the city submitted another request for an “urgent hearing.”

Revelers celebrate their monster victory in Jerusalem in the fact over the "Monster pub" – a secular bastion that town hall has tried to shut down
Emil Salman

The hearing was held, unusually, on a Friday morning. The municipal prosecutor, Haim Nargasi, was called back from vacation to argue the city’s case. He told the court that it should stop the pub from opening because Mifletzet did not have a business license and because the municipality, which owns the land where the pub is situated, opposed the pub’s opening. (Mifletzet operates on the grounds of the neighborhood community administration building.)

The attorney for the pub, former city legal adviser Yosef Havilio, said the municipality was hounding the Mifletzet due to extraneous interests, and all businesses in Israel initially open without a license.

Judge Arnon Darel rejected the municipality’s request, criticizing “the various hats the municipality’s representatives are wearing, when on the one hand they are acting as the official prosecutors appointed by the attorney general for criminal proceedings, and on the other they are acting on the civil level as representatives of the city, the owner of the property. And on the third hand they are acting as representatives of the local government in an administrative matter involving the lack of a business license.”

Political activists have several theories to explain the actions of Mayor Nir Barkat and the municipality against the pub. Members of Barkat’s inner circle said the municipality was concerned about a precedent in terms of launching businesses in neighborhood administrations and a breach of the status quo regarding the Sabbath in Jerusalem.

But most of the activists believe that the attempted closure was part of an unwritten agreement between Barkat and ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemites regarding management of the city’s mixed ultra-Orthodox and secular neighborhoods. Many say the agreement includes ultra-Orthodox support for Barkat’s mayoral bid in the city’s next election.

“Nir Barkat decided to buy off the ultra-Orthodox and it turns out that anything goes in reaching that goal,” said Havilio, who himself is considering running for mayor. “This past week Barkat harnessed all the city’s resources to close the Mifletzet pub and proved to those who still needed proof that he has abandoned the pluralistic community in Jerusalem, the community that elected Barkat and in the end will send him home.”

Matti Kolerman, who runs the pub, said he hoped the city would halt its fight, but the city is expected to keep battling to close the place down.

In the crowd that gathered Friday night were parents, children, teens and many seniors. Several secular city-council members were also on hand, including Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch of the Wake-Up Jerusalem party, and members of the Meretz and Yerushalmim parties.

The city said in response: “For months now the Mifletzet corporation has been trying to operate an illegal pub in the courtyard of the community administration in Kiryat Hayovel, against the position of the community administration and the city. The pub has no business license as the law requires and no fire department permit. Meanwhile, alcohol is sold on site and other activities take place that are not permitted on public land.”

The city said it would consider allowing community activities at the site if all commercial activity ceased, the status quo was maintained and the activities took place through the community administration. The city said it would also consider supporting such activities.

“The attempt to depict municipal enforcement as designed to restrict the secular community in the neighborhood and the city is infuriating and populist,” the city said in a statement said, adding: “We regret that a handful of activists led by attorney Havilio have chosen to heat things up in the city and fabricate a religious war over nothing.”