In recent years, ultra-Orthodox politicians have honed in on Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, which has become an entertainment zone for the secular public, making it a scene of struggle. Last Wednesday, a city councilman representing United Torah Judaism, Yohanan Weizmann, wrote to Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, asking him to change the venue for events in International Space Week planned for this Tuesday.
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The events were set to take place at several different business centers in Jerusalem and at the Mahane Yehuda market. “I would like to draw your attention to the fact that at two of the locales selected for these events, one serves nonkosher [products] and leavened products on Passover, and the other is not kosher,” Weizmann warned. A few hours later, the ministry’s director general, Peretz Vazan, decided to cancel the events in Jerusalem.
Only after a query from Haaretz did the ministry announce that International Space Week had been postponed to a later date. But in response to a query from Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch, it was stated that the events would take place in Mahane Yehuda and at other venues.
The demand that space and science events not be held in restaurants and pubs that sell “nonkosher and leavened products” is clearly unrealistic. What is most concerning here is the almost automatic concession to any demand by a Haredi politician – no matter how extreme the demand.
The fight against International Space Week is part of a larger fight against businesses serving the secular community in Jerusalem, including businesses using alternative kashrut certificates or others that do not have any such certification. They have been successful and some events have been canceled due to Haredi pressure. It is disappointing, though not surprising, to learn that the science, technology and space minister is joining this trend.
But the story also has a positive side. A day after the events were canceled, social activists – including from the Ayn Rand Center and the Israel Freedom Movement – were able to organize an alternative science festival with the slogan “Science will not be silenced in Jerusalem.” The alternative festival will host more lectures and events than were originally planned.
Like the apparent trend in the Education Ministry (see story by Or Kashti on page 2), where parents succeeded in reducing the involvement of Orthodox organizations in kindergartens and schools, here, too, the secular public proved that, unlike politicians and senior officials, it will not back down.
Akunis is betraying his office as science minister when he succumbs to ultra-Orthodox pressure. He should announce that a mistake was made and that the event will be held according to the original plan. Neither can Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – who signed an unprecedented agreement with Haredi rabbis in the “Lithuanian” (non-Hasidic) community, to the displeasure of the city’s secular community – be absolved of responsibility.