From Barack to Barkat: A Look Back at the November Elections

November 14, 2008 - 1:13 PM by

Barkat at Market

The just concluded Jerusalem election, while certainly not as important on a world stage as last week’s U.S. presidential contest, was in many ways spookily similar to its overseas counterpart. For those who supported Nir Barkat, who beat his main competitor Meir Porush by a commanding 9 points (52 to 43 percent), the sheer jubilance that erupted across the city (though certainly not in all parts of it) reminded me of what I’d heard from so many friends and family in the U.S. after Barack Obama bested John McCain.

That tolerance had triumphed over extremism. That inclusiveness would now prevail, not sectarianism. And most importantly, that hope, pride and patriotism had been restored – in the case of Jerusalem, at a time when many residents were saying, either outright or under their collective breaths, what one Beit Hakerem resident was quoted by Haaretz as lamenting: that this election would “determine whether I’m staying” in the city.

The resemblance between the two races extended beyond just the similarity in the winning candidates names. One candidate preached change, the other more of the same. One ran a relatively clean campaign, while the other (or his supporters, it’s not clear) spent much of his political capital on negative attack ads.

To wit: I took a walk several days before the election. There were posters claiming Barkat was really a closet leftist; that with only five years in politics he “lacked the experience” to manage such a complex city as Jerusalem. Sound familiar?

Barkat, to be sure, didn’t run a flawless campaign the way Obama did. He flip-flopped on political positions and took pot shots at low hanging fruit (the light rail fiasco, the over priced “Bridge of Strings”). Posters appeared on city streets in the waning days of the contest almost messianically proclaiming him “HaTikva,” a play on words: the literal translation is “The Hope” but it’s also the name of the Israeli national anthem.

But Porush had his own Sarah Palin debacle when he was caught on tape boasting that, following his presumed election, “there would be no more secular mayors anywhere in Israel within 10 years.” Once publicized, that statement more than any others did the job of scaring away any remaining voters still on the fence.

As in the U.S., both candidates were Internet savvy. Their websites were filled with information and video and opportunities to get involved. Barkat’s people sponsored a MoveOn-inspired email campaign where recipients were asked to personalize a letter urging friends to vote and automatically send it to up to 25 others at once. I’m not sure if Porush did the same – after all, many of his supporters are not supposed to be on the Internet at all.

As the campaign dragged on, it became difficult to find a neutral ground. Barkat supporters decried Porush as a religious fundamentalist who would turn the clocks back 100 years. The Porush people painted Barkat as an operator who’d promise anything to anyone for a vote. Both made a desperate effort to win over the city’s swing vote – the national religious public – our equivalent of Ohio and Florida.

Like Obama, an inordinate amount of expectation has now been placed on Jerusalem’s mayor-elect. Obama ostensibly has it easier. With Democratic control of Congress, Obama will be able to push through more of his policies than Barkat who still has to cobble together a coalition with a motley bunch of small to moderately sized parties, each with their own agendas.

These range from the ultra-Orthodox (UTJ and Shas) to the uber-leftist (Meretz) and everything in between (there’s one party with a slate of civic-minded young people, another that got in to push a single issue: easing the traffic jams from the satellite neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev). Would that it were as simple in Israel as having just the Democrats vs. the Republicans in power (but then, what fun would that be?)

The new mayor of Jerusalem will not be expected to repair an ailing economy on a grand scale as in Washington, but the creation of jobs, ensuring that the city’s diminishing tax base can cover municipal services, and creating a viable partnership between public and private enterprise are all badly needed parts of the post.

Here too Barkat’s election inspires confidence, for who better to address these issues than a businessman who made the jump from the private to public sector himself. And unlike the bankers on Wall Street who refuse to part with their exorbitant bonuses, Barkat has promised not to take a salary at all.

I know no candidate is perfect. Like Barack Obama, Nir Barkat holds views I don’t necessarily agree with. But I truly believe he will try to run the city like the hi-tech manager he is. I can imagine Barkat appointing a “CTO” for the city as Obama is trying to do for the U.S. Both will push for transparency. Their joint goal is nothing short of restoring the good name of their respective constituencies worldwide.

There’s one area, though, where the similarities between the elections end and the essential Israeliness of ours becomes paramount. This was the first election where my oldest son, Amir, has been able to vote. Four hours after the polls closed, Amir flew off to Poland.

Visiting Poland to experience what Jewish life was like before and during the Holocaust is a right of passage for seniors (and sometimes juniors) in Israeli high schools. It is a life-affirming trip that cements the students’ identity as Jews and as Israelis. The timing this year served to further drive home the fact that the Jews weren’t given the right to vote from the death camps. They weren’t given the right to live.

For us, being able to participate in the building of a thriving community in Israel, as the homeland for the renewal of the Jewish people as a sovereign democratic nation, is not just a privilege, but an emotional and poignant responsibility. Living up to that challenge is our patriotic duty, and casting a vote to shape the kind of society we want to live in, is a critical part of how we exercise that right.

I am proud of my nation, my city and my family for coming out this week to cast a ballot that may at last return hope to Jerusalem, the most important city in the world.


3 Comments on From Barack to Barkat: A Look Back at the November Elections

  1. David-Joe on Sat, Nov 15th 2008 1:58 AM
  2. A “Sarah Palin debacle”? What exactly is that?

    Sarah Palin is a quite frankly a babe. And this of course drives the left wing crazy because their spokeswomen usually look like Hillary or lesbians.

    Governor Palin is an intelligent and well spoken governor of Alaska. She is a respected authority on energy policy – just ask the major oil companies how respected she is.

    She has strong moral principles that the American press detest because they are leftist. The pro-abortion faction in America which of course includes the Democrats hate her because she decided to keep her Down syndrome baby and not in NAZI type eugenic style automatically abort it.

    When Sarah was selected she energized, electrified, a conservative base that was not at all enthused by McCain. Whereever she appeared she had crowds that rivalled those of Obama.

    She is comfortable in her own skin, has raised a beautiful family AND manages to govern a State. She is the antithesis of the so-called “intellectual elite” with their smug attitudes and snobbery over the decrepid Ivy League universities in America.

    She is a God-fearing person and this further annoys the Left.

    During the Republican Convention, her first ever national speech, the teleprompter went out midway, but she spoke without missing a beat. That is something special.

    She has been pilloried, attacked, derided and challenged in the most blatantly rude and disrespectful way by people in the media and cowards behind her back that are part of a Republican Washingtob clique – and stood her ground.

    Most of all, the Left hate her because she is tough and nothing gets to her.

    Now, the world around may be ignorant of who she is. And Israel of course is besotted [and believes] anything that the media say. So they will believe the worst about her.

    Israel should be so lucky as to have a politician such as Palin arise. Instead Israel has to rely on people with shaky principles such as Livni, dinosaurs such as Barak and shemen such as Netanyahu.

    I am Israeli and American. I live in the US and I am proud of what we have here. I look across at Israel and I can find only pity and disgust as what we have in Jerusalem. A rotten corrupt government that really does belong in one of the most barbaric regions of the world, the middle-east because it has become just like them.

    I moved away from Israel BECAUSE I could see what Israel was becoming – that it was losing its Zionist principles and becoming a sort of weak European lookalike. I have not been wrong. I do not regret moving.

  3. Hila on Sat, Nov 15th 2008 11:52 AM
  4. “I moved away from Israel BECAUSE I could see what Israel was becoming – that it was losing its Zionist principles and becoming a sort of weak European lookalike. I have not been wrong. I do not regret moving.”

    So, now with Obama winning, are you planning to move to Canada?

  5. Brian Goldfarb (UK) on Tue, Nov 18th 2008 1:51 AM
  6. “Sarah Palin is quite frankly a babe”. Please! Anti-abortion (aka a woman’s right not to choose – check my name: the Hebrew version is Benyamin); creationism in the classroom – since when did non-ultra-orthodox Jews believe in creationism?; Christian fundamentalism; pro-gun law. Check out and see what happens. If being a babe is the best that David-Joe can come up with, that makes him a sexist as well as right wing. Not a nice combination.

    The only reason she was on the Republican ticket was to win over the Christian far right for MaCain and to try (and fortunately fail) to win over the “Clinton women”. Fortunately, Hilary told her supporters that they _had_ to vote for Obama – who will be as pro-Israel as all the previous US Presidents (at least while in office). And look what happened in Florida: the Jews voted for him and delivered the state.

    David-Joe, it’s safe to come out of the bunker: but as Hila says, you _could_ move to Canada, but they’re quite liberal there!

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