Popular Jerusalem Pub Becomes Latest Victim of Religious Tensions in Neighborhood

Community bar and cafe in Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood opened last summer and attracted big crowds at weekends, to alleged annoyance of Haredim in city hall.

The Mifletzet Bar & Cafe in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood of Jerusalem in September 2016.
Udi Avital

The Jerusalem municipality has ordered the closure of a popular pub in Kiryat Hayovel that was open Saturdays.

The bar appears to be the latest victim of tensions between secular and ultra-Orthodox residents in the mixed neighborhood.

The Mifletzet Bar & Cafe was opened last summer by a community cooperative consisting of 72 shareholders – most of them youngsters living in the neighborhood – as a nonprofit enterprise.

The members say they have been trying to get a license to operate the pub for three years but that city hall keeps placing obstacles in their way.

After obtaining the main permits – from the firefighters, the police and sanitation department – they opened the pub, which is located in the local community center compound.

The pub – named after Kiryat Hayovel’s famous spotted-monster sculpture, situated nearby – was a big success and hundreds of people visited it every weekend, until it shuttered on Friday. The cooperative held numerous social and community activities there, including game nights, concerts, lectures and parties.

The venue operates as a cafe in the morning and a bar at night. It provided residents with a comfortable, community-oriented place to relax over food and drink, without having to drive into the city center.

But city hall kept trying to stop the activities and close the pub down. It told the managers they had to get a permit to work on Saturdays.

“We asked the city’s business-licensing division, which issues such permits, and they sent us to another division, from which we were sent to another and another. Some of us took days off work and came to the municipality first thing in the morning, spending whole days there, until we realized there is no such form and no such permit,” one member said.

In recent weeks, ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) officials in the municipality have been applying pressure to close the pub.

The Haredi community in Kiryat Hayovel has grown in recent decades, placing the neighborhood at the forefront of the struggle between the secular and ultra-Orthodox communities. Haredi officials reportedly feared that the bar’s success could set a precedent for other community centers to operate in Jerusalem over the weekend.

At the same time, residents of the capital’s secular neighborhoods have been demanding that culture and leisure activities be allowed in community centers on Saturdays.

Haredi officials see this as a breach of the status quo in the city and object strongly.

A municipal official said the closure order for the pub was issued 10 days ago, but the cooperative members say they only received it Friday afternoon, in the midst of their preparations to open.

They decided not to violate the order and closed the premises, vowing to fight on by legal means.

Two semi-spontaneous demonstrations were held over the weekend to protest the pub’s closure.

“We have received the order and will examine the situation to see what we can do,” said Ma’ayan Mor, one of the cooperative members.

“This is very sad, because we have good relations with all the residents. Only the interference of political functionaries led to this outcome,” she said.

City Hall said in response, “The municipality issued the closing order because the place operated without a business license, which constitutes a criminal offense.”