Open debate....?

The Open House has asked the local affairs court to rule that the municipality allocate it NIS 195,000 instead of the current NIS 36,000.

rainbow 521 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
rainbow 521
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
Like clockwork, the issue of financial support from the municipality for the Open House for Gays and Lesbians surfaces once a year as we approach the date of the Pride Parade (this year, July 28). Public opinion, campaigns, lawsuits, court decisions, not to mention the (in)famous haredi protests – the years go by but nothing has changed, despite the major change in personnel at city hall.
Formally this time, it is a question of semantics.
How should one define the Open House? Is it a community center (like the 31 community centers across the city that operate within the framework of the local neighborhood councils) or is it a cultural center? Or perhaps neither but something different. This is a crucial question, since the answer will determine how much – if anything – the Open House can expect to receive from the municipality’s coffers Yonatan Gher-Leibowitz, director of the Open House, says, “Yes, we are a community center; therefore, we are entitled to public funding from the municipality just as any community center in the city.”
But at Kikar Safra, there is a slightly different definition of how a community center works. For example, it should serve residents from one neighborhood – hence, the community centers in the various neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But Gher-Leibowitz begs to differ. “We render our services to a community that is made up of individuals who live in different locations but all have the same needs and interests; therefore, we are a typical community center and should receive financial support just like any other community center here.”
Complicated? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
The debate over the character of the Open House is based on a decision made four years ago during Uri Lupolianski’s term by his deputy mayor Yigal Amedi.
In an attempt to solve the problems of financial support for the cultural and social institutions in the city, Amedi created a special committee that came up with a list of criteria as to which institutions deserved public funding and how much. The naïve among us might assume that the debate would have been resolved by now and that everything was in order.
Alas! Politics, interests and a certain degree of homophobia are also mixed into the pot, rendering a most pungent brew every year.
Last week, Gher-Leibowitz submitted a lawsuit asking the local court of affairs to rule that the municipality fund the Open House. Gher-Leibowitz is asking for NIS 195,000, while the municipality has given only NIS 36,000. The explanation for this considerable gap? According to Gehr, and confirmed by a source at Kikar Safra and Deputy Mayor Pepe Allalu, there are two sources of municipal funding for community centers. One is for specific projects already submitted and budgeted. The other is what is called “non-colored monies” – i.e., money that is given for general needs, such as rent and renovations, or the equivalent of an exemption of property tax.
As a result, a community center that receives large budgets for its social and community activities will also receive considerable sums for the above-mentioned categories.
The catch is that this does not apply to the Open House. The municipality fixed a certain (very low) sum, based on a complicated system, that gives an average of what all the other community centers receive, besides the funding for projects. Why? Go figure! But this time Gher-Leibowitz decided not to cave in and took the matter to court. “The Supreme Court has ruled that until clear criteria are set for the Open House, we should be considered exactly like any community center in the city, and at the moment this municipality is simply violating the court’s ruling,” says Gher-Leibowitz.
Since the committee that makes the decisions about municipal funding for this kind of institution is in the hands of the haredi United Torah Judaism party, I asked its leader, Itzhak Pindrus, if he or his party was involved in any attempt to prevent the Pride Parade or the activities of the Open House. Pindrus laughed and then said he was not going to allow for any opportunity to talk about the gay community or its projects. “Nobody cares about them anymore, so I guess they want to create some media agitation. We all know that it means more fund-raising and the like, but I’m not going to supply it.”
As for Gher-Leibowitz, he says he hopes that someday soon homophobia will no longer exist at Kikar Safra or in Jerusalem.