Inspired by London’s famed “Speakers’ Corner” in Hyde Park, the Jerusalem City Council has approved plans to create an Israeli version in Sacher Park – replete with an amphitheater and café – where the capital’s residents can peacefully debate issues of the day, or gather for cultural events.
Construction of the new amphitheater, to be located in the northwestern part of the city’s largest park, is scheduled to begin within the next five months, the Municipality said Sunday. It will accommodate over 200 people and is scheduled to be completed by early 2014.
The amphitheater will be named after Arnan Yekutieli, a former Meretz Jerusalem City Council member, deputy mayor under Teddy Kolleck, and founder of the Am Hofshi Association (Free People), which led the battle to keep cinemas and businesses open during Shabbat.
Yekutieli, a noted proponent of free speech, died in 2001 at the age of 45 while awaiting a heart transplant in the United States.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat lauded the addition of the amphitheater Sunday as a reflection of Jerusalem and Yekutieli’s progressive vision for the city.
“We are constantly working to upgrade and develop the city parks and add activities for its residents,” he said in a statement. “Establishing Sacher Hyde Park will allow residents to express their views on various different issues, exchange ideas, attitudes and share cultural activities.”
Barkat continued, “Establishing this ‘Hyde Park’ will give thousands of the park’s visitors an option to exchange opinions and views, reflecting Yekutieli’s long-standing vision for Jerusalem.”
The mayor said he will utilize the venue to hold organized debates, invite diverse speakers and allow the audience to participate in discussions. To ensure order, ushers will be present at all times.
The original speaker’s corner in Hyde Park was established over a century ago, as a result of the struggle for civil liberties in Victorian-era Britain. With speakers including historic luminaries Karl Marx, William Morris, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell and Marcus Garvey, it became – and continues to be – a powerful symbol of democracy for other free nations to emulate.
Indeed, since its inception, numerous countries around the world – including Canada, the US, Malaysia and Australia – have designated similar public areas where civilized debate and discussion are encouraged.
In London, any person may speak on any subject – although there is no impunity to the law if one incites violence, is publicly intoxicated, or laces speeches with profanity.
Sacher Park, located near the city center, was established in 1965 and named after Harry Sacher, an English politician and prominent Zionist, who died a year earlier.