Are haredi residents spreading into Beit Hakerem?

Some see the planned conversion as an attempt to expand the haredi presence in a secular neighborhood.

Beit Hakerem controversy (photo credit: DOUGLAS GUTHRIE)
Beit Hakerem controversy
(photo credit: DOUGLAS GUTHRIE)
A project to convert a closed senior home on HeHalutz Sreet into a clinic for convalescing women after giving birth has become controversial.
Some see the planned conversion as an attempt to expand the haredi presence in a secular neighborhood. Others regard it as a maneuver by an entrepreneur to make money – even if the project doesn’t conform with municipal licensing rules and is opposed by many local residents.
The parameters of the conflictexpanded last week when the entrepreneurs submitted a legal complaint against city councilwoman Laura Wharton (Meretz), in an apparent attempt to intimidate her and counter her activity against the project. They submitted an additional complaint against the activity of the community pub located near their project, arguing that it is operating in violation of municipal licensing.
“This building is meant to be something that can serve the residents of this neighborhood,” explains Wharton. “Going to a post-childbirth clinic is a custom practiced mostly by the haredi sector, so obviously this project will serve people from elsewhere – not the neighborhood.
Wharton and fellow pluralist city council coalition member, Yossi Havilio, have taken further steps against the project and its promoters.
“I don’t think that this is an attempt to bring haredi residents into Beit Hakerem,” says Wharton, “but it is certainly a blatant attempt to violate the rules and to promote a project that will affect the character of the neighborhood, since the building is designed to be a home for seniors, while the promoters plan to turn it into a convalescence clinic for new mothers.” Wharton has sued the promoters who submitted the legal complaint against her for slander.
However, Havilio is persuaded that this is just another case of trying to install haredim in a mostly secular neighborhood.
“Everybody can buy a house anywhere, of course, that’s not the issue” he explains, “but if a haredi individual or a haredi organization wants to open a haredi institution in a secular neighborhood, that is something else. It immediately raises our suspicion, and that is the case here.”
Havilio concedes that at the beginning, the promoters may have been misled by a municipal clerk who told them that converting the old senior home into a clinic for mothers and toddlers did not necessitate a special procedure.
“That is indeed what happened, but after they were informed of the mistake, they didn’t halt the project. Since all the renovations were done inside the buildings, it was not clear what was decided until a resident spotted a sign announcing the imminent opening of a clinic for mothers and babies. Clearly by then, there was no good faith anymore.”
The case was brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and is still pending, but Wharton, Havilio and local activists opposed to the project are ready to continue to fight against it.
“If the court, as I hope and expect, rules that they cannot open a clinic there at this stage, they will have to go back to the local planning and construction committee to submit their project, and it will be the committee’s prerogative to decide if the building’s purpose can be changed,” adds Havilio.
And that brings the whole issue to the mayor’s office, a step that both Wharton and Havilio expect to solve the problem in the interests of the neighborhood. Although the committee is under the baton of Deputy Mayor Eliezer Rauchberger, head of the haredi Degel HaTorah list, the official president of the committee is, by law, Mayor Moshe Lion.
Havilio says he has already talked to Lion about the issue, and he expects him to leverage his status to cancel the clinic project, and maybe restore building to its original purpose – a home for the seniors of Beit Hakerem.
MKS Holdings LTD, which is converting the home into a clinic, responded to In Jerusalem’s request for comment: “The allegations against the clinic are completely fake news. We have provided the permit granted by the municipality; the allegation that this permit was a clerk’s mistake is a lie. Laura Wharton is using her status to conduct a selective implementation of the law. We have in the past made some attempts to hold talks with the residents, which have not succeeded because residents sabotaged these meetings.
“Despite the fact that we hold a valid permit, we have decided to run our project by the local planning and construction committee.”