A source in Jerusalem’s city government said Cinema City’s owners were pressured by the city to tell the High Court Cinema City would close on Shabbat of its own volition. In return, it was offered backroom financial inducements by the city – and likely backed by the Finance Ministry, as well. The source noted the ongoing security situation in the capital was hurting Cinema City financially, and its owners were told the municipality and the Finance Ministry would find ways to help Cinema City financially in exchange for it agreeing to close on Shabbat. But those inducements, that pressure, and the resulting deal were all made behind closed doors and with no transparency.
New Jerusalem Theater Complex To Be Closed On Shabbat After Secret Backroom Deal
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
It has all the makings of yet another sad Jerusalem story that yet again proves religious freedom, including the right to be free from religion, is not guaranteed in Israel.
The story involves a right-wing secular mayor with larger political aspirations who needs to placate the large and sometimes violent haredi minority he loosely governs and a right-wing national government so dependent on haredi support to remain in power that it has sold its very soul to haredi political parties in return for that support.
The losers are secular Jerusalemites and people who care about transparency and democracy.
The new Cinema City theater complex was supposed to be open on Shabbat. It is not located near any haredi neighborhoods and can’t be said to be visibly offensive to haredim, who never have to see its Shabbat violations.
But haredim wanted the new multimillion dollar complex to be closed on Shabbat anyway and cited the so-called religious status quo agreement that has been in place since 1948 to justify their demands. There were subtle and not so subtle threats of violence. And then Jerusalem’s secular mayor and his new counterparts in Israel’s Finance Ministry allegedly twisted the arm of Cinema City’s owners to coerce them to close Cinema City on Shabbat. At the same time, they allegedly offered secret financial inducements to Cinema City to lubricate that decision, including guarantees of a disproportionately large number of government events being held at the complex, even though more suitable public spaces for those events exist, some of which are government owned, Ha'aretz reported.
Earlier today, Cinema City’s owners told Israel’s High Court of Justice they had changed their minds and would of their own volition and free will, at least for now, close Cinema City on Shabbat to maintain the religious status quo in the city. Neither the owners, the city or the national government made any mention of financial inducements, although they clearly exist.
Secular activists were understandably outraged because the permitting process that allowed the complex to be built was entered into with the stated understanding that Cinema City would be open on Shabbat to serve the city’s secular residents.
Secular activists filed the High Court petition almost two years ago as haredi pressure to close the soon-to-be completed theater complex on Shabbat suddenly mounted.
About 18 months ago the High Court ordered Cinema City’s owners, the Jerusalem municipality, Israel’s Finance Ministry, and the secular activists to negotiate the Cinema City’s hours of operation and come back to the court with a compromise, but those negotiations never took place. But you’d never know thta judging from Cinema City’s owners’ statement to the High Court today.
“At this time the developers believe that there is no need to continue negotiations with the municipality and the Finance Ministry over the matter of the petition,” Cinema City’s owner’s wrote today. “However, [we] the developers reserve the right to revisit the matter vis-a-vis the city and the Finance Ministry to move ahead on opening the complex on rest days and the conditions for doing so, and if need be, to petition the authorized court [for help in enforcing that right],” Cinema City’s court filing reportedly says.
A source in Jerusalem’s city government told Ha’aretz Cinema City’s owners were pressured by the city to make that statement to the court and said Cinema City was offered backroom financial inducements by the city – and likely backed by the Finance Ministry – to make it. The source noted the ongoing security situation in the capital was hurting Cinema City financially, and its owners were told the municipality and the Finance Ministry would find ways to help Cinema City financially in exchange for it agreeing to close on Shabbat. But those inducements, that pressure, and the resulting deal were all made behind closed doors and with no transparency.
Jerusalem City Councilwoman Laura Wharton of the Meretz Party told Ha’aretz today that Cinema City had suddenly and for no good reason received priority in city funding for government conferences to be held on its premises.
“There are dozens and hundreds of places in Jerusalem to hold conferences, some that are owned by municipal subsidiary companies. It is unreasonable and improper for these events to be held at Cinema City out of all the places in the city,” she said, linking that sudden direction of unexpected government business to Cinema City with Cinema City’s owners’ sudden about face on Shabbat hours.
Yossi Havilio, the attorney who petitioned the High Court for the secular activists and politicians, told Ha’aretz he “utterly rejects” Cinema City’s sudden about face to the High Court. What Cinema City’s owners did amounts to “defrauding the court and the public.…First it was [Jerusalem Mayor Nir] Barkat making a laughing stock of the court and the public and now it is the developers, I hope they aren’t working together,” Havilio said. He also called on the public to boycott Cinema City until it opens on Shabbat as it was originally slated to do and as the owners originally insisted they wanted.