Despite a petition filed to the High Court demanding that the capital’s Cinema City stay open over Shabbat, the multiplex’s management on Sunday said that it will remain closed on the weekend and holidays.
The announcement follows nearly two years of legal wrangling between the popular theater chain and Jerusalem Awakening, a pluralistic political party that views the Shabbat closure as an affront to religious freedom in the capital.
Noting Jerusalem’s delicate religious status quo, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Deutsch, part of Mayor Nir Barkat’s rightwing coalition, praised Cinema City’s management for not acquiescing to the pressure to stay open.
“The management realized that the majority in Jerusalem are traditional and prefer to avoid unnecessary wars and conflicts between the religious and secular,” he said.
However, MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), a former deputy finance minister, denounced Cinema City’s management for catering to the religious Right, despite formerly supporting operating on Shabbat.
“This cowardly decision by the management of Cinema City does not affect the status quo whatsoever,” Levy wrote in a statement. “Cinema City’s management’s embarrassing u-turn after previously supporting operating during the Sabbath, stems only from political pressure.”
Moreover, Levy said the decision will result in sustained economic losses in the city, in addition to the ongoing alienation and exodus of young secular residents and families.
“There’s no reason why the young people of Jerusalem should have to travel to other cities on a Friday evening, while inside the city there is already a large entertainment complex,” he continued.
“Jerusalem belongs to all sectors of life, including secular citizens.”
Still, Cinema City did not appear to entirely reject the possibility of remaining open during Shabbat, stating, “At this stage we are not going to operate the Cinema City compound on Saturday and Israeli holidays.”
The 15-screen, NIS 125 million complex, located above the National Government Center parking lot, has been a lightning rod in the city’s religious tug-of-war since its owners were given a building permit in 2010, with the stipulation that it remain closed during the weekend.
That edict, issued by the Finance Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality to the private entrepreneurs who constructed the complex on government land, has led to a protracted and heated debate about the religious polarization of the city.
Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Jerusalem Awakening), who has led multiple protests to persuade the government to keep the multiplex open during the weekend, said that keeping Cinema City operational on Shabbat will not “disrupt the status quo.”
“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 when the theater opened.
“Secondly, this is not near religious neighborhoods, so it will not offend the haredim [ultra-Orthodox] in any way.”
Echoing Levy, Berkowitz said it is important to keep the cinema open to prevent secular residents from leaving the city over the weekend in their search of entertainment, which would further exacerbate the capital’s already anemic 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.”
Following haredi rioting in August when the city’s newest cinema, Yes Planet, which operates during Shabbat, opened, Barkat responded by demanding that eight of the capital’s mini-markets operating on Friday and Saturday close over Shabbat.
Prior to Yes Planet’s grand opening, hundreds of flyers were distributed throughout several of the city’s haredi neighborhoods, stating: “Shabbat in Jerusalem is in terrible danger,” “The city is being desecrated,” and “Stop this plague.”
While commercial enterprises built on state land in Jerusalem are prohibited from operating during Shabbat unless otherwise adjudicated, Yes Planet was constructed on private land, precluding any government intervention.
An organization known as the Rabbinical Committee for Shabbat Issues, which is comprised of rabbis from all sectors of the haredi community, led the opposition to the project.
Noting that up to 50% of their weekly profit is generated over Shabbat, the eight mini-market owners who were instructed by the municipality to close their doors have appealed the decision, and remain open, pending a court ruling on the appeal.
Meanwhile, Levy said he would continue to fight against Shabbat closures in the capital.
“We will fight it wherever we can,” he said. “It’s time to understand that the free inhabitants of Jerusalem should live as they wish.