Litzman: Jerusalem mayor candidates must vow to shutter bars for Haredi support

UTJ newspaper announces demand on Friday, saying secular entertainment district at Mahane Yehuda market has become ‘focal point for debauchery’

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives at the weekly government conference at the PM's office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives at the weekly government conference at the PM's office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

United Torah Judaism party head Yaakov Litzman is demanding that Jerusalem mayoral candidates promise to shut down a nightlife district in the city’s center in return for the support of his Hasidic sect.

The ultra-Orthodox deputy health minister says anyone desiring the backing of the city’s Gur Hasidim — seen as a key constituency for candidates — must vow to close bars at the Mahane Yehuda market.

A paper for Litzman’s party, Hamodia, announced his demand on Friday, saying the area had in recent years become “a focal point for debauchery and revelry” and “both an environmental and educational nuisance.”

The market pub area is one of the capital’s only entertainment centers for the secular public.

Ultra-Orthodox city council members have also sought to shutter Jerusalem’s First Station promenade, another secular bastion, on Shabbat.

Earlier this month, the Jerusalem municipal council voted 15-10 in favor of an appeal brought by ultra-Orthodox council members protesting the site being open for business on the Jewish day of rest.

People seen partying at a bar in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on May 8, 2018. (Liba Farkash/Flash90)

But on Thursday the city’s District Planning and Building Committee overturned motion.

Israeli law forbids businesses from operating during the Jewish day of rest, with exceptions including places of entertainment, restaurants and basic services such as pharmacies, as well as industries whose closure would hurt Israel’s economy. A vehemently debated issue in numerous Israeli cities, the policy is of particular sensitivity in deeply religious Jerusalem.

On Thursday Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin announced that he will run in the upcoming elections for mayorship.

Jerusalem Minister Zeev Elkin speaks at a conference in the Jerusalem Convention Center, on January 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The announcement came two months after Mayor Nir Barkat said that he will not be seeking a third term and will instead run for Knesset on the Likud party ticket.

Elkin is seen as close to the Haredi politicians who could turn out the vote in the city.

Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion, an independent candidate, has also announced his candidacy.

Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitsch of the United Torah Judaism faction is seen as the leading Haredi candidate, alongside fellow party member Yitzhak Pindrus, also a deputy mayor.

Zionist Union lawmaker Nachman Shai is also reportedly set to announce his candidacy for the mayoral race in the coming weeks. Another possible candidate is Kulanu party MK Rachel Azaria, who served as deputy mayor before entering the Knesset in 2015.

There are also several secular candidates vying for the support of the younger generations, including 34-year-old Ofer Berkowitz, head of the Hitorerut faction, Yossi Havilio, a former municipal legal adviser turned Barkat critic, and little-known Avi Salman.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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