Betar Illit mayor: PM is strangling haredi building

Meir Rubinstein calls Barak's permission for limited building in Judea and Samaria "an aggravating bluff.

beitar ilit construction 248 (photo credit: ariel jerozolimsky)
beitar ilit construction 248
(photo credit: ariel jerozolimsky)
The Netanyahu government is "strangling" the haredi city of Betar Illit by maintaining a building freeze there, Mayor Meir Rubinstein said this week. "The building freeze is a stranglehold on the city and on its development," Rubinstein said in an interview with the haredi Internet news site Kikar Shabbat, which was confirmed by Rubinstein's spokesman. "There has never been a government that has issued such a severe decree," he said. "No one has ever completely stopped building in Betar." Rubinstein called Defense Minister Ehud Barak's permission for limited building in Judea and Samaria "an aggravating bluff." "We are talking about 455 permits that were already given in the past," Rubinstein said. "Some of them are already being built. It is difficult to say this, but what we are talking about is a PR trick." Although the new approvals included about a hundred units for the haredi public, including in Modi'in Illit, no new permits were issued for Betar Illit. Rubinstein called the building shortage in Betar Illit "acute" and said that the situation has only gotten worse since the Netanyahu government took power. "Besides the 286 new units in Betar that were okayed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, no new building has been approved by the Netanyahu government," Rubinstein said, adding that permission to build even those units was obtained only after a long, drawn-out struggle fought by United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas. "We hoped that Netanyahu would continue the building in Betar, but in reality nothing has happened," Rubinstein said. MK Menachem Moses of UTJ was reluctant to criticize the Netanyahu government. Asked if UTJ would leave the government to protest the building freeze, Moses said that his party never left a coalition unless there was a transgression of a religious or ideological principle. "We do not leave a coalition for economic reasons," said Moses. "Besides, the prime minister has already said that he is interested in solving the housing shortage problem not just for haredim but for all young couples who are unable to find a reasonably priced apartment," he said. "The only thing we can do is shout gevalt." Moses called the freeze in Betar Illit absurd. "The building freeze is not on the outskirts of the town. It is affecting building in the heart of Betar Illit. There are places where there is building on one side, building on the other and in the middle there are empty lots because of the freeze. "I am convinced that if President Obama himself were to come to Betar and see for himself, he would understand the need to continue building," he said. Moses said the that haredi housing shortage was serious. "Young couples are forced to live in converted storage rooms and underground parking lots. We have to do something about it." The settlement-construction freeze affecting Betar Illit and Modi'in Illit has made options for haredi construction even more limited. Plans for an all-haredi town of 150,000 in Harish, just east of Hadera, are being delayed by the opposition of Arabs and kibbutzniks living in the area. In Beit Shemesh, where thousands of haredim already live, there have been calls by secular residents to block the influx of any more haredim. City Councillor Moti Cohen is waging a campaign against haredi influence. Last week, Beit Shemesh residents demonstrated against attempts by Mayor Moshe Abutbul of Shas to split a secular school called Languages and Culture and use half of the classrooms for haredi students. The Education Ministry sided with the opponents of Abutbul's proposal. Shalom Lerner, head of Beyahad, the second-largest faction in Beit Shemesh's city council, said that he and many other residents were attempting to maintain a balance between modern religious, secular and haredi residents. "We want to maintain Beit Shemesh's unique quality as a town with a diverse population," he said. In all, there are plans to build 20,000 additional housing units in Beit Shemesh. In the first stage, to be completed in three years, 770 units will be built for each of the three groups in Beit Shemesh - secular, modern Orthodox and haredi. Moses called the secular opposition to haredi building in Harish anti-Semitism. "Haredim are treated worse than Ethiopians," he said. "Last week a few Ethiopians were not admitted into school and the entire country went crazy. But in our case there are tens of thousands of haredim without housing. "Harish, the one place where we can go to live and which has remained unpopulated for over a decade, is being closed to us just because we are haredim."