Yes Planet

REEL DEAL: The new Yes Planet complex in Jerusalem. (photo credit: ERAN LAM)
REEL DEAL: The new Yes Planet complex in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: ERAN LAM)
On Saturday, May 28, 1949, a group of religiously observant residents of Jerusalem’s Zichron Moshe neighborhood gathered to protest the desecration of the Jewish holy day of rest by the owners of the Edison Theater. The cinema was slated to screen a new film starring Gregory Peck at 7:15 p.m. and the ticket office would be open even earlier. The recently instituted daylight savings had resulted in Shabbat ending an hour later.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel railed against what was in their eyes the desecration of Shabbat. He and others present, such as Rabbi Avraham Haim Shag (Zwebner), a Mizrahi MK for in the first Knesset, accused Edison’s owners of caring more about making money than about the sanctity of the Shabbat. The demonstration soon got out of hand and together with a group belonging to Neturei Karta, the protesters made their way to Edison in an attempt to forcibly prevent the film from being screened.
Fisticuffs broke out between the religious demonstrators and the theater goers. Police beat the protesters with batons. And when one police officer who was getting beaten badly feared for his life, he took out his pistol and fired. Luckily, no one was hit by the shot.
Though nearly seven decades have passed since the religious demonstrations against Edison, not much has changed regarding the ability of religious and non-religious to live together in harmony in Israel’s capital.
On Friday night, thousands of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) residents of Jerusalem took to the streets to protest the opening of Yes Planet’s multiplex 16-screen movie theater in the capital’s Abu Tor neighborhood. The protesters ironically desecrated the Shabbat they hold so dearly by blocking roadways and throwing rocks at police and at news teams that were on the scene to cover the demonstrations.
The Edison Theater eventually closed down as a result of a lack of demand, not due to violent demonstrations.
In a twist that must be seen as poetic justice in the eyes of Jerusalem’s haredim, the theater was razed and replaced with housing for the Satmar hassidic sect.
Similarly, the Yes Planet movie theater’s fate will not be determined by zealous demonstrators but by the viability of its business plan. Unlike Cinema City, which is built on land belonging to the city and the state, Yes Planet was built on privately owned land. Therefore, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – who opposed opening Cinema City on Shabbat out of deference to religious sensitivities – has less say about Yes Planet’s Shabbat policy.
Also, unlike, Cinema City, which is more centrally located, Yes Planet is in southern Jerusalem where the neighborhoods are either secular or traditional but open-minded.
Haredi lobbyists are most effective when they exert influence over business interests through economic boycotts.
This type of pressure forced Electra’s real estate arm to stop a building project in Jaffa that purportedly involved the desecration of Jewish graves; it contributed to the economic crisis experienced by Alon Holdings Blue Square after its acquisition of the 24/7 chain AM:PM that operates on Shabbat; and a haredi boycott also forced El Al to stop flying on Shabbat.
In contrast, Yes Planet caters to an exclusively non-Orthodox clientele. No haredi boycott can be used against it. If there is a strong enough demand for movie theaters in Jerusalem coming from the less religiously observant and from the populous Arab neighborhoods of southern Jerusalem, there is nothing the haredim will be able to do about it.
Market forces more than any other factor are shaping relations between religion and state in Israel in recent decades. As a result of the immigration of a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, many of whom are not religious, demand grew for non-kosher products. Market forces ensured that these products were made available.
Similar dynamics can be observed in fields such as secular burials, vacation packages that include a civil marriage in places like Cyprus, or the opening of large retail malls on Shabbat.
Since the establishment of the state, there has been tension between religious and secular forces that has not abated over time. Time will tell if Yes Planet is a business success, and if there are enough film-goers to sustain it.
This should be the sole criterion for whether or not the multiplex movie complex remains open – not by the bullying tactics of a violent minority.