J'lem Bracing for More Haredi Riots as Mayor Vows Shabbat Opening

The Jerusalem municipality's parking lot will be open to cars this Shabbat if a nearby lot does not receive court permission to open, Mayor Nir Barkat announced yesterday. The decision is expected to lead to renewed ultra-Orthodox rioting.

The Eda Haredit, an extremist ultra-Orthodox group that led riots two weeks ago, immediately responded to Barkat's announcement by calling for a mass prayer rally on the capital's Bar-Ilan Street on Friday night. It also called for solidarity demonstrations in Haredi towns and neighborhoods outside Jerusalem.

"We'll set the entire country on fire, not just Jerusalem," said Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Papenheim.

Secular political parties and organizations are also planning demonstrations this Shabbat, in support of the lot's opening.

"This is a test for all those who seek coexistence in this city, for people who understand that in Jerusalem, we must live and let live," Barkat said.

The municipal lot, located in Safra Square near the Old City, was opened on Shabbat for the first time earlier this month. But the riots that ensued prompted Barkat to close it for the next two weekends while he tried to negotiate a compromise.

His first proposal was to open a nearby private lot, owned by businessman Alfred Akirov, instead of the municipal one. But Akirov backed out, apparently concerned that ultra-Orthodox rioters would damage his business.

Barkat then looked into opening another nearby lot, this one owned by the municipal corporation Karta. However, since Karta is in the process of being liquidated by a court-appointed receiver, that requires the court's permission.

The receiver, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, said he would not object to opening the lot as long as the city promises to compensate Karta if the lot is vandalized. The city asked yesterday for court approval to open the lot.

Barkat said he hoped the court would do so before this weekend, but if not, he will order the Safra lot opened.

Barkat said the Safra lot's opening would not violate religious prohibitions against Jews working or earning money on Shabbat, since it will be manned by a non-Jew and cars will not be charged for parking.

However, these provisions failed to satisfy the rioters last time, so municipal officials are bracing for more riots this Shabbat. The ultra-Orthodox charge that the lot's opening violates the religious status quo in Jerusalem.

Despite the planned Eda Haredit protest, other ultra-Orthodox groups have thus far refrained from provocative statements, saying they prefer to keep negotiating with the municipality.

Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf of the Rabbis' Committee for Shabbat, which represents the mainstream Haredi public, said his organization has not yet decided how to respond to the lot's opening. However, he said, he was upset by Barkat's decision, "which was made without dialoguing with us."

Yossi Deutsch, a city council member representing the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, which is part of Barkat's coalition, also protested the decision.

Nevertheless, several Haredi groups - including the Eda Haredit - said this issue would not affect their decision to refrain from protests against tomorrow's Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.

The city decided to open a lot near the Old City after police said the volume of traffic in this area on Shabbat, coupled with the lack of parking spaces, was creating serious traffic jams.