Ire as Jerusalem tries to regulate the religious character of neighborhood councils

A battle is waged in Jerusalem against a decision by the municipality to designate seats on the councils of communities as ultra-Orthodox or not. Seats are coming up for election on December 22.

Mayor Moshe Lion and his administration believe that pre-designation of seats on the basis of religious affiliation can prevent power struggles during and after votes.

A furious appeal against the plan, made by the Grand Baka community council in south Jerusalem, was accepted on Wednesday, and other councils – including those of the Haredi – are appealing or considering doing so as well.

Community councils exist only in Jerusalem. They were put in place to ensure that the needs of the complex mosaic of populations across the city are met and to serve as a channel for dialogue between local residents and the municipality.

The councils are governed by a council of 15 people, nine elected and six others appointed by the municipality and the Association of Community Centers.

An artist on a balcony at a street festival in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 12, 2014 (Nati Shohat, Flash90)

These councils receive money from the city, the Association of Community Centers, and fees charged for the wide range of community center activities. They set their own budgets and priorities, which in Grand Baka, for example, range from kindergartens, library services and sports facilities to celebrations, activities for the elderly, after-school programs and help. to urban planning.

Budgets can be big. Last year, the budget of the community council in Pisgat Ze’ev, for example, was 31.8 million shekels ($ 9.4 million), while that of Ginot Ha’ir, which covers eight neighborhoods, was 30.3 million shekels (just under $ 9 million).

The ultra-Orthodox have traditionally lived in the north of the city. But in recent years, high birth rates have led them increasingly to seek housing in some of the southern neighborhoods populated by secular and modern Orthodox Jews and those who define themselves as Masorti, or moderately religious.

This demographic shift has sparked clashes, with haredi demands for the closure of streets and recreational facilities on the Sabbath day meeting stiff opposition from secular Jews in neighborhoods such as Kiryat Hayovel in the city’s southwest. Tensions have been exacerbated in recent months by the refusal of certain segments of ultra-Orthodox society to obey coronavirus regulations.

An ultra-Orthodox man walks through the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem on August 19, 2014 (Hadas Parush / Flash90)

The Times of Israel has learned that as next month’s elections approach, secular and ultra-Orthodox groups have approached Mayor Moshe Lion to express concern that their voices are not being heard in neighborhoods where they are a minority. .

This prompted Lion to ask officials to find a way to ensure that no community council can ignore the needs of a constituency.

According to the new policy, which was relayed to community councils just a week ago, the religious color of each of the nine elected seats will be determined on the basis of the votes cast for the municipal council elections in October 2018. For example, if Haredi parties in 2018 won one-third of the votes in a particular neighborhood, that neighborhood will now see one-third of the seats – three out of nine, and no more – reserved for ultra-Orthodox candidates in upcoming neighborhood polls.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion speaks at a launching ceremony for new electric buses in Jerusalem, September 3, 2019 (Hadas Parush / Flash90)

Based on this, the municipality determined that five of the seven councils ahead of the elections next month would have a seat reserved for a Haredi member and eight for representatives of the non-Haredi population. These were Homat Shmuel, Gonenim, Greater Baka and Ginot Ha’Ir to the south of the capital, and Pisgat Ze’ev to the north. As noted above, the Grand Baka has now been exempt from the new plan.

In the largely ultra-Orthodox Bayit Vegan neighborhood in West Jerusalem, two seats will be reserved for the “general population” and seven for the Haredim, while in Eshkolot (Shmuel Hanavi), eight seats will be Haredi and one will represent the rest. .

Applicants will be required to state their religious affiliation in advance and if residents are concerned that this has been misrepresented, they will have the right to appeal. Residents will be free to vote for whomever they want, regardless of their religious tendency.

Police officers speak with ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at a checkpoint leading to the Romema and Kiryat Belz neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which are stranded due to high rates of coronavirus infection, July 12, 2020 (by Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

According to sources familiar with the initiative, who requested to remain anonymous, complaints about the new plan have flooded the municipality from both Haredi and non-Haredi communities.

In its appeal, the Grand Baka council said it opposes any kind of sectoral designation, insisting that the differences between the ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox populations bear no relation to the many activities of community councils.

Calling the new policy undemocratic, lamenting that it was introduced without consultation and demanding that it be rescinded, the council said candidates should be chosen on the basis of public confidence in them and “not on the basis of their beliefs and their way of life ”.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews cross the street at the Bar-Ilan intersection in Jerusalem, October 19, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

The Haredi community, meanwhile, is at risk of losing the system in neighborhoods such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Homat Shmuel, where their numbers have increased since the municipal elections two years ago.

The situation will be different for other neighborhoods running for election next year, the sources said. In the largely secular Beit Hakerem, West Jerusalem, for example, no time slots are provided for the Haredim, while in the homogeneous Haredi Romema there will be no seats reserved for non-Orthodox.

“The Jerusalem Municipality strives to give representation in the management of community administrations to the variety of residents of the neighborhood, depending on their share and size in the neighborhood,” said a council statement. “This is to make sure that they [can be] active partners.


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