In blow to secular activists, court okays Haredi school in Jerusalem’s Kiryat HaYovel

Municipality scores major Supreme Court win against community activists in secular-majority neighborhood, will open Bais Yaakov school for girls ahead of upcoming school year

A view of apartment buildings in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood of Jerusalem, on February 19, 2017. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
A view of apartment buildings in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood of Jerusalem, on February 19, 2017. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Jerusalem’s predominantly secular Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood is set to open a new Haredi school for girls to replace a secular public school in the area, after the Supreme Court overturned a district court ruling blocking the municipal plan.

The Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, reported by Haaretz, gives the Jerusalem municipality the go-ahead to open an ultra-Orthodox Bais Yaakov school in two weeks’ time for the upcoming school year, and comes over a month after the Jerusalem District Court accepted an appeal by secular residents opposed to the plan.

The school building has served as the Amal Lady Davis School, a multi-disciplinary high school with a technology focus, for over 40 years. The school was moved to another part of the city, according to Haaretz, and the municipality sought to allocate resources to open a Haredi school in the structure.

It will be the first ultra-Orthodox school in the neighborhood, against which secular residents and activists have campaigned fiercely since earlier this year. According to Haaretz, they have argued that the opening of the school will accelerate the “Haredization” of the neighborhood, amid an influx of ultra-Orthodox residents in the mid-2010s.

Over the past 10 years or so, Kiryat HaYovel has been a focal point of the growing religious-secular divide in Jerusalem. For decades since its establishment in 1952, the neighborhood maintained a diverse population consisting of Israelis from a variety of religious backgrounds, but almost no Haredi community.

Following the 2008 construction of an ultra-Orthodox kindergarten, secular residents of Kiryat HaYovel began lamenting what they said was a Haredi takeover of the neighborhood. They claim not to take issue with ultra-Orthodox residents themselves. Rather, they say, they are concerned by the anti-pluralistic trends they see in their community.

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

In July, secular activists appealed against the Jerusalem municipality’s decision to open the Haredi school — part of the Bais Yaakov network of primary and secondary schools for ultra-Orthodox girls — on the grounds that the municipal allocation process was flawed. The argument was accepted by a Jerusalem District Court judge who ruled that the process appeared to be sped up and did not take into account a number of set procedures.

But that argument was rejected on Thursday by Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit, who wrote in the ruling that he did “not find that there was a flaw in the municipality’s decision to allocate the building within the abbreviated procedure.”

“In general, local authorities have extensive discretion regarding the allocation of public resources within their scope, because the local authority is in the best position to determine priorities,” wrote Amit, according to Haaretz.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosi Havilio, an opponent of the plan and a leader of the campaign against it, said in a statement that the municipality’s decision “reeks of electoral bribery” to appeal to ultra-Orthodox voters in the upcoming municipal elections, and charged that it is based on “illegal conduct, economic lawlessness and a lack of values.”

“To open a Bais Yaakov school in the heart of a non-Orthodox neighborhood is a ringing slap in the face to the secular population in Kiryat HaYovel and the city as a whole,” said Havilio.

The deputy mayor, a lawyer and community activist who previously served as the attorney general for Jerusalem, added that “only by returning the moderate Zionist majority to the city council in the upcoming elections” will the public be “able to save the neighborhoods and Jerusalem from a poor and non-Zionist future.”

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion expressed his “gratitude and appreciation to the High Court of Justice, which determined clearly and sharply that the Jerusalem municipality acted according to the law and according to the procedures,” in a statement by his office cited by the local Jerusalem branch of the Ynet news site, Mynet Jerusalem.

“Now, the students of Bais Yaakov will be able to prepare themselves for the start of the school year, like other students in Jerusalem,” said the mayor.

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