Lev vs. Lev

Lev Leviev's Africa-Israel corporation is closing the Lev Aviv Theater in favor of a 'more profitable' fashion store. Another case of big business favoring money over culture?

ramat aviv mall 88 (photo credit: )
ramat aviv mall 88
(photo credit: )
By the time this article appears in print, the Lev Aviv movie theater in the Ramat Aviv mall will be in the process of shutting down its operations. Earlier this week, workers began dismantling the rows of seats, the popcorn machine and the projection equipment. Elsewhere in the city, other professionals are likely preparing plans for the new décor: a major interior-design overhaul will be necessary in order to transform the homey, cultural atmosphere that characterized the theater into the chic style befitting the new retail store that will replace it. How did all this come about? In the 1990s, the Africa-Israel Group, owned by Lev Leviev, sought to build a mall in Ramat Aviv (at that time, Africa-Israel was owned by Leumi Bank). Fearing the invasion of a large commercial center into their peaceful community, residents put up a fight. They argued that the mall would attract visitors from all over the city, bringing heavy traffic and commotion into their neighborhood. The argument went back and forth, with residents claiming the mall's aim was to serve the metropolitan region, and the entrepreneurs arguing their intent to serve the locals. A Ramat Aviv resident who was active in the struggle and who wishes to remain anonymous told Metro that "to make [the developers'] point that the mall would serve the local community, the residents were told there would be a cinema." The activist recalls that in order to persuade residents to accept the idea, the movie theater was presented as an integral part of the future mall. He sounds bitter and sad when he says that while the compromise reached at that time may not have been anchored in legal documentation, he views it as a "moral issue." He says the promise of a theater coaxed the community into accepting the mall, but the theater was now being taken away. For over a decade, however, the arrangement seemed to be working out for all parties involved. The residents put up with the mall, and the movie theater somehow softened the blow of a commercial presence in their community. The mall itself enjoyed shoppers it would not ordinarily have attracted - moviegoers who browsed and bought on their way to and from the theatre. And Lev Theater enjoyed a lucrative location, in a community favorably disposed toward the quality and foreign films that are the main focus of its repertoire. Recently, the Leviev company decided to replace the movie theater with a new Zara Home store. In a written statement to the press, Rani Rahav, spokesperson for the Africa-Israel Group and the Ramat-Aviv Mall, says: "…The cinemas operate mainly in evening hours and weekends, when the mall is not open, and therefore no longer constitute an added value to the mall… thousands of the mall's clients wish for innovative international shops for fashion and [the] home… We operate on a commercial basis. This is our mission vis-à-vis the company's stockholders, as a public company that has its stockholders and customers as its first priority." While Rahav's comment suggests the public is clamoring for new shops, at least 2,000 people signed a petition against closing the movie theater. The public outcry against the move also included a heated demonstration a week before the closing, and requests that the municipality take action to keep the theater open. Meanwhile, residents have also contacted several munipal council members in the hope of sparking renewed debate on the matter. Etti Cooperberg, who lives in Ramat Aviv and runs a nursery school, visited Lev Aviv on its last night. Cooperberg disagrees with the claim that the Leviev group will earn more by renting the space to a store, at higher rates. "From a business point of view, it's a mistake to think that commercial shops will bring higher profits," she says. "Personally, my friends and I come here to watch movies, and then we'll also do some shopping by the wayside. But I would not come [to the mall] especially in order to buy clothes - I have more than enough clothes in my closet…the whole business area will be more profitable [with the theatre around]." All over Israel, smaller theaters are shutting down, giving way to large movie complexes like Cinema City, just south of Herzliya. Some would argue that if the smaller theaters were profitable, they should have been able to survive the changing business tides. Others say the capitalistic machine is crushing small businesses. Cynics are poking fun at the affluent Ramat Aviv residents, protesting something as "trivial" as their local cinema closing down. However, activists and commentators note the issue here is not the quality of life of Ramat Aviv's residents, but large commercial interests "swallowing up" the smaller, community-based businesses; the social responsibility or lack thereof practiced by big businesses in Israel; and the power and influence these companies and individuals hold to affect ordinary Israelis' lives. Yael Dayan, Deputy Mayor of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa and a former MK, told Metro: "Whether or not a promise was made, I think there was complete lack of consideration by the [mall] owners towards the residents' struggle… I hope lessons will be learned, so that when there is a plan for a profit-making enterprise, there will be legislation anchoring a commitment for a certain percentage or area that will be dedicated to welfare and culture [for the community]." Children are taught that in a democracy, all people have equal power over their own lives. Yet in Israel in 2007, it seems that a small number of rich families hold much more power than any of their fellow citizens. One of the last films to play at the Lev Aviv theater was titled Earth. It presents beautiful views of nature from around the world, but also features a repeating theme of the natural cycle of hunters and hunted. Perhaps it is not coincidental that this is one of the last films to have filled the large movie screen at the Ramat Aviv mall. Maybe the rules in today's society are much more like the animal kingdom we like to think we've risen above. Perhaps the way businesses operate is very much like the scene in Earth where the predator spots its prey, and chases it with full single-minded intent. Finally, the strong, large cheetah holds down its prey in a stranglehold. The hunted fawn makes a few final, desperate efforts to escape. But in the end, the cheetah crushes any chance of the fawn's survival: and the hunted animal's neck swings sideways, as it realizes it has no chance against the sharp teeth that are rapidly nearing its jugular.