Whose city is it, anyway?

Umm Kulthum Street in Jerusalem (photo credit: NIV ELIS)
Umm Kulthum Street in Jerusalem
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
The question raised last week at the city council meeting is not a new one – on the contrary, it has been raised and debated more than once, at various levels of ten- sion and with different issues at stake. Whose city is it, any - way? Whom should it serve? How should Arabs, Christians and Jews, secular as well as various kinds of religious residents feel about the city’s moving along? Should the municipality care more about one or another sector, or strive to deliver the appropriate answers to all the sectors – a task considered by many, including at Safra Square, as “mission impossible”? The most recent development on this issue was the success – perhaps only temporary – of the haredi representatives at city council in preventing all planned events of the local dance company Hora Jerusalem on Shabbatot, even if the performances were scheduled to be held outside of Jerusalem.
“Local associations supported by the city should not per - form on Shabbat,” says councilman Yitzhak Pindrus (United Judaism), “and therefore we stopped this.”
Last week, at the local Finance Committee meeting preced- ing the city council monthly meeting, the proposal to fund the dance company appeared on the committee’s agenda. That was an occasion the haredi representatives couldn’t ignore, especially now, while the war on the character of Shabbat in the city is at the center of many debates at the city council. On top of this, the recent decision of the mayor, which passed despite the haredi benches’ opposition, to keep the First Station compound open on Shabbat and holidays, obviously called for some reaction.
As for the fight over the minimarkets, while Mayor Nir Bar - kat has adopted the request of the haredim in his coalition to close them on Shabbat, for the moment the owners prefer to pay the fines imposed on them rather than to close the shops. As a result, mini-markets open on Shabbatot and holidays continue to raise the anger of the haredi sector and its representatives at city council. Haredi members of the Finance Committee scrutinized the hundreds of paragraphs of last week’s committee agenda and found the proposal to subsidize Hora Jerusalem – a project they didn’t oppose in principle, until they discovered that the request for funding was intended for performances of the company on Shabbatot outside the city. That was the last straw, and the reaction was strong. The request was not approved by the committee, and on the following day the council meeting was simply cut short. The budget for the Hora company was not approved, and the haredi representatives prevented the continuation of the meeting until they were sure it would not be approved later on.
It has been accepted for many years, in the framework of the status quo in matters of religion in the city, that any cultural or community event that is sponsored by the municipality with the use of public funds from taxpayers is required not to desecrate Shabbat. That has been the situation for years, but over time, more and more breaches have been made in that understanding, and the haredi representatives are right to use their power to stop a trend that not only hurts their feelings but is also nibbling at the official rules. Nobody dares to utter it openly, but off the record, there are more and more council members who admit that the day will come when the status quo will have to be reconsidered and adapted to the new realities on the ground. But for the moment, nobody is ready to take the risk putting it on the table.
The issue of the Hora company budget will be reassessed before the next city council meeting (scheduled for the end of this month), but to a few high-ranking officials at Safra Square, this incident reminds them of what presaged the end of haredi leadership of the city, when Hora girls were compelled to wear long skirts and cover their hair for their performance inaugu- rating the Bridge of Strings. The resulting scandal led to the city’s helm moving from haredi hands (mayor Uri Lupolians- ki) to the candidate of the secular sector, Barkat.