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Soccer Stadium Runs Afoul of Sabbath : Jerusalem Mayor in Unorthodox Protest

September 05, 1987|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Even without recognizing the famous face, it was clear from the beginning that the distinguished looking man setting up a protest sign across the street from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's office here Friday morning was no ordinary demonstrator.

He not only brought a desk, he also had a secretary, a mobile telephone, and a beach umbrella to shield them from the bright sun on a warm, cloudless day.

He was Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem, and he explained that he was trying to make a point, not take the day off. Besides, he added: "It's so much nicer than the office. It's lovely out. We are lucky that, in spite of the fact we are demonstrating in opposition to religious coercion, God is apparently with us and has given us good weather."

The 76-year-old, Vienna-born Kollek, now in his fifth term as one of world's best-known mayors, knows the corridors of power here as well as anyone. But by taking his protest to the streets, like the most ordinary citizen, he underlined the universality of his cause: a new soccer stadium.

Orthodox Opposition

Jerusalem's growing population of ultra-Orthodox Jews has steadfastly opposed construction of a modern stadium for years, arguing that it would contribute to the desecration of the Sabbath by hosting soccer games on Saturdays.

Nevertheless, at one time, site preparation was actually under way before then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin interceded, asking Kollek to put off work for two months while Begin sought an alternate location that would ease ultra-Orthodox concerns.

That was more than eight years ago.

Kollek complied with Begin's request. A new site was designated, land was bought, and all the necessary clearances were obtained. The District Planning Commission gave its final approval to the new site in Jerusalem's southern suburbs six weeks ago. All that is now necessary for construction to begin is the signature of Israel's interior minister.

Shamir Won't Sign

But there's the rub. Shamir is also acting interior minister since the former office holder, who is ultra-Orthodox, resigned in a separate dispute over the validity of a Reform Jewish religious conversion. And Shamir, who enjoys vital political support from Israel's small religious parties, has refused to sign.

"The prime minister is for the building of the stadium, but he doesn't want it to be operated on the Sabbath," Avi Pazner, a spokesman for Shamir, said in a telephone interview. "Unless he gets guarantees it will not be operated on the Sabbath, he will not sign. There is no reason to offend the feelings of those who would otherwise be offended by this."

"Bunkum!" replied Kollek. Sabbath considerations carry no legal weight in the granting of a building permit, he said, adding that whether Saturday games are scheduled is up to the soccer league, not the mayor.

Besides, there has been soccer on the Sabbath in Jerusalem ever since the beginning of the state. It's played at a small, run-down field behind the Jerusalem YMCA, in the center of the city.

Simcha Dinitz, a member of the Knesset (Parliament) who stopped by to support the mayor's action, declared: "I've never understood why it's OK to play on Saturday in a bad stadium but it's bad to play on Saturday in a good stadium."

Threat of Court Action

The problem is not the Sabbath, Kollek declared. The problem is that "the prime minister wants to keep his relations with the religious parties in good shape." If his protest fails to bud1734680659the issue to Israel's Supreme Court.

While the stadium controversy is not directly related to another secular-religious confrontation in Jerusalem, over the showing of motion pictures on the Sabbath, Kollek said there may be an indirect connection.

"The films are a symptom and not the reason in itself" for secular dissatisfaction, the mayor commented. "The reason is a feeling of being restricted. They want free choice. This expresses itself in the films and maybe other things."

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