(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s new “neighborhoods plan” is harming secular residents and disturbing the balance between them and the ultra-Orthodox community, says Laura Wharton (Meretz-Labor), opposition leader in the city council.
According Barkat’s “plan to preserve the neighborhoods’ characteristics,” which he introduced last week, the municipality would fund and build new public institutions – such as kindergartens, schools and community centers – according to the characteristics of local residents.
Neighborhoods with mainly ultra-Orthodox residents would receive funding for haredi schools and synagogues and so on; and secular neighborhoods would receive funding for state secular schools and secular youth movements. The announcement of the plan did not spell out the exact level of funding and in most cases did not provide details.
Kiryat Hayovel, which has long been mostly secular but has recently seen some haredim moving in, is labeled a mixed neighborhood, and haredi kindergartens, schools and institutions will be built in it.
Critics of the plan, such as Wharton, are saying that not only Kiryat Hayovel but also other secular neighborhoods are labeled as mixed and will be damaged by this plan.
“Even when it had a haredi mayor, [Uri] Lupolianski, he said that in a multicultural city such as Jerusalem, spatial separation of different societal group has great advantages.
Every group has its own cultural area in which it could preserve its lifestyle, and this separation minimizes the potential confrontations between the groups,” Wharton told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Wharton said that the initiative would enable ultra-Orthodox groups to reside in secular neighborhoods and demand public facilities, while the reverse is not possible.
“What Barkat is essentially saying is that there are ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, in which I cannot walk around freely without getting rocks thrown at me or spat on, as happens to people while driving on Saturdays on Hanevi’im Street, and there are ‘open neighborhoods.’ He [Barkat] doesn’t let the [secular] residents feel at home anywhere,” she said.
“I will not go to Geula [a ultra-Orthodox neighborhood adjacent to Mea She’arim] and ask to build a Hashomer Hatzai’r [left-wing, secular youth movement] branch, but think they can come live anywhere and receive special services, and they are being backed by Barkat,” she continued.
Wharton also criticized the way Barkat is carrying out the plan. She said his claim that it is being done in cooperation with residents and community centers are untrue.
The Jerusalem Municipality rejected Wharton’s allegations and said in a statement to the Post that the plan was developed in cooperation with people from all sectors, including rabbis, neighborhoods’ community centers and public leaders.
“It was done out of the desire to preserve and strengthen the neighborhoods’ characteristics, and to allow every sector to thrive in its own neighborhood, according to its lifestyle,” the statement said.
“It allows proper treatment for minorities in the neighborhoods, in a way that do not endanger the characteristics of the neighborhood, and reduces the constant friction and arguments, especially in neighborhoods that contain different sectors. The mayor’s plan is being implemented with full transparency and the municipality is conduction a constant dialogue with all the sectors to keep updating them according to their needs.”