JERUSALEM (Jul. 11)
Mayor Teddy Kollek announced yesterday that construction will begin in 2-3 months on the controversial sports stadium in northern Jerusalem despite bitter opposition from Orthodox residents of the area. He denied that the stadium would destroy the sanctity of Jerusalem, create noise and congestion in the religious neighborhoods or represent an expenditure of municipal funds needed for other projects.
The Mayor, in a media campaign launched yesterday, accused religious zealots of distorting the facts about the proposed sports center and organizing a pressure campaign from abroad. Kollek’s office has received close to 5000 letters from the U.S. and Canada objecting to the stadium. Some contained threats on the Mayor’s life. Many writers threatened to stop contributing money to Israel for any purpose and some accused the Mayor of wanting to erect a monument to himself. The most vociferous protestors here are Orthodox Jews who immigrated from the U.S.
Kollek, however, has wide public support for the stadium. A petition with more than 45,000 signatures endorsing it was presented to him yesterday. The controversy has raised fears, however, that when construction begins, clashes may erupt between non-religious sports fans and the Orthodox who seem to have become bolder in their demands since Premier Menachem Begin formed a coalition government in partnership with the religious parties. Observers pointed out that the long simmering conflict between religious and non-religious elements has already erupted into street battles in Bnei Brak.
According to Kollek, access roads to the new stadium will by-pass the religious neighborhoods thus eliminating traffic on the Sabbath. It will be built further away from synagogues and yeshivot than many existing sports arenas, the Mayor said. It will not be “Olympic size,” but will contain seats for a modest 25,000 soccer and other sports fans. Finally, Kollek noted, no government or municipal funds are involved. Half of the estimated IL 70 million cost will come from the football lottery and the rest from private donors here and abroad. The stadium will take about three years to complete.