New Year’s party to protest early closure for J’lem bars

Proposed regulation would force city's bars and puns to close at 11 p.m.

Hundreds of Jerusalem’s young people are expected to demonstrate against a regulation that could force the city’s bars and pubs to close at 11 p.m., by partying with a purpose until the early morning hours on New Year’s Eve.
The municipality insists that the new zoning rule, which will dictate how late businesses can operate based on their location, is a necessary update for a changing city. The last business zoning regulation for noise control dates back to 1955.
The rule is still being discussed and is expected to come before the City Council in the next few months. It will include a color-coded map showing which areas of the city can stay open until 11 p.m., which until 2 a.m., and which can stay open 24 hours.
Individual businesses will be able to apply to a committee for an exemption, the municipality said.
“[Jerusalem Mayor Nir] Barkat says that he supports business and culture, but all the businesses that he’s going to negatively affect with this law are all places that shape culture – bars, businesses that are nighttime hangout places,” said Israel Hass, an independent event organizer who is behind the New Year’s Eve protest party. “If he wants to help these places, he should prove it.”
Referring to events the municipality sponsored over the summer, when a different concert or festival was held every weekend, Hass said that the municipality “made a big effort this summer to appeal to the masses in order to show that there are a lot of good things for young people.
“But I can tell you, it’s a lot easier to put on cultural events than to go through serious processes like real estate, sustainable tourism, or investing in small businesses,” he said.
City Council member Ofer Tzvi Berkovitch (Awakening Jerusalem) has been working with the Department for the Promotion of Business for four months to make a series of changes in the proposed rule so the new requirements will not hurt the city’s pubs and restaurants. He said the current incarnation barely resembles the draconian draft initially proposed by haredi council members.
“I agree that it’s not what Jerusalem needs, and I’m not in love with this law, but if they’ve already decided to pass this law for all the citizens who want order and things like that – and I also want order – I think comparatively there’s almost no negative effect on young people,” Berkovitch said. “There are a lot of places we’re raising objections.”
According to the municipality, the current zoning rules from the 1950s, which are not enforced, only allow restaurants and bars to operate from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The municipality also noted that businesses would be able to apply for exceptions to the new zoning laws and present their cases before a committee that could grant them longer hours.
“Even if the new law allows them to stay open past 11, there’s going to be lots of expensive new requirements that the businesses will have to do, like put in noise absorbers, that will be so expensive that this cost will finish them off,” said Hass. “In Jerusalem, small businesses have a hard enough time making a livelihood.”
At the heart of the debate is an up-and-coming area around the Mahaneh Yehuda market, which in the past few years has transformed into a night life destination, with tiny pubs that seat no more than 20 people scattered in the narrow streets around the shuk. The noise from the night life irritates many in the traditional Mizrahi neighborhood.
The area around the shuk, as well as the downtown area and the Rehavia neighborhood’s Rehov Gaza, are set to be included in “night activity” zones that may have later closure times.
Berkovitch is also fighting for the bars in certain neighborhoods that are popular with young people, like Kiryat Yovel, French Hill and Katamon, to be able to close at 2 a.m. instead of 11 p.m.
Around 800 people are expected to attend the New Year’s protest party, which is being hosted at three different bars in downtown Jerusalem, Hass said. The party is planned to last beyond 11 p.m.