Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy lent considerable weight Monday to Jerusalem Awakening’s High Court petition to keep the capital’s newest and largest multiplex open on Shabbat, just days before the court is to review the case.
The 15-screen, NIS 125 million uptown complex, which opened last week, has been a lightning rod in the city’s religious tug of war since its owners were issued a building permit in 2010, with the stipulation that it remain closed on the Sabbath.
That edict, issued by the Finance Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality to the private entrepreneurs who built the complex on government land, has led to a protracted and heated debate about the perceived religious polarization of the city.
Indeed, Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Jerusalem Awakening), who has led multiple protests to persuade the government to keep the multiplex open on Shabbat, arranged two demonstrations at the theater on the day of its public unveiling.
“The big argument is to enable Jerusalem to be a pluralistic place for all populations – to allow secular citizens and tourists to enjoy Shabbat the way they want to enjoy it,” he said. “Secondly, this is not near religious neighborhoods, so it will not offend the haredim [ultra-Orthodox] in any way.”
Following the Monday tour of the state-of-the-art multiplex sponsored by Jerusalem Awakening, Levy said he agrees with Berkowitz’s contention, noting that keeping it open will not breach the city’s religious “status quo” or alienate the haredi community.
“There are other businesses open on Shabbat in the city for the public, and it is important to emphasize that [Cinema City] is not near ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, and therefore should not hurt the feelings of the religious community in the city,” Levy said.
Moreover, Levy said that, as long as the multiplex remains in compliance with municipal regulations, there is no legal basis to keep the theater closed on Shabbat.
“After checking with the Finance Ministry and other governing bodies, it was determined that nothing [legally] prevents Cinema City from staying open on Shabbat,” he said.
Noting the dearth of weekend entertainment venues open for secular Jerusalem residents and tourists, Berkowitz said keeping the cinema open will improve the quality of life of residents while benefiting the city’s sluggish economy.
“There is a lack of places open during Shabbat, so we need to keep this open to give people the opportunity to not only live here, but to enjoy living here,” he said. “It’s good for Jerusalem and it’s good for the city’s economy.”
Berkowitz added that Finance Minister Yair Lapid agreed with Jerusalem Awakening’s assessment when it approached him over one year ago, but that Lapid has yet to take action.
The High Court of Justice is scheduled to review the petition to reverse the closure on March 12.
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