Barkat where he belongs

November 12, 2008 - 7:53 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, Israeliness, Life, Politics 

Barkat ads proclaimed victory months in advance.Municipal elections were held across Israel yesterday, with leadership positions up for grabs in 159 regional councils and cities. In Tel Aviv the race was extremely close, making for high drama into the night, as ballots were counted. However, the mayoral race in Jerusalem was arguably the most dramatic of all, with the very soul of the city up for grabs.

Outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski was elected five years ago by the city’s ultra-Orthodox sector, who knew that as mayor, he would fight hard for their agendas. Disillusioned by the then-outgoing Olmert administration, Jerusalem’s non-Orthodox populace largely sat out the election, paving the way for the city’s first ultra-Orthodox mayor. The biggest loser in that election – aside from all hopes for a pluralist, commerce-friendly, tourist-welcoming and culturally vibrant Jerusalem – was candidate Nir Barkat.

A high-tech entrepreneur and a champion of culture, Barkat went on to serve as an effective opposition leader in the city council, but when the ultra-Orthodox parties banded together and named Knesset member Meir Porush their 2008 candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, many feared a repeat of 2003′s results. And even if one believed that Barkat’s popularity exceeded Porush’s, one had to wonder about wildcards like the candidacy of oligarch-playboy Arcadi Gaydamak and Green Leaf leader Dan Birron, who had the potential to at least split the secular vote.

As a result of this situation, Barkat’s 2008 campaign featured some right-wing posturing moves that made some wonder if perhaps they’d be better off with Porush after all. But in the end, these efforts paid off, with many of the city’s National Religious elements supporting Barkat as someone who had their back. Ultimately, Barkat received over half of the votes, no small feat on a crowded ballot.

Democracy and change have been so thick in the air lately that perhaps a global reconnecting with the voting process also helped turn the tides. If apathy is what put Lupolianski in City Hall, a hearty can-do spirit is what has given us Barkat. And like that other high-profile candidate billed as the agent of progress, he certainly has his work cut out for him.

This Year I’m a Voter…The Next Mayor Election Vote for Me, Your Deputy Mayor

November 9, 2008 - 8:33 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Politics 

Our futureDid you know that Jerusalem has six deputy mayors? And each one gets paid NIS 35,000 a month. So now you are thinking, how do I become a deputy mayor? Me too. But it’s too late for us because the election for mayor and city council are just two days away and we’re not on any of the party lists so chances are that we’re not making a career change any time soon. But for those of us voting it is important to understand that we actually get two votes, one for mayor and the other for city council. It is on the city council that these deputy mayors will sit as part of the 30-something coalition and make the crucial decisions affecting me and you.

It is also important to know that while the deputy mayors are making the big bucks, the rest of the city council is doing volunteer work–that is, they are not making a penny, or shekel, if you will. As Shira at The Big Felafel informs us:

“While the two highest elected municipality positions, mayor and deputy mayor, are paid positions, the other 29 seats on the council are volunteer positions. The mayor’s salary comes from your taxes, has his/her hand most tightly around the budget and has the best chance of passing his/her policy decisions. But the council members are either a part of the mayor’s coalition, thus helping the mayor pass policy and allocate money, or they are a part of the opposition, with a unique opportunity of exposing the improprieties of the coalition to the public and leading a strong opposing stance to the ruling force. So both votes are extremely important.”

Like Shira points out, both of your votes are crucial and with just a few days before the elections these “volunteers” are campaigning down to the wire trying to get you to vote for them. This past Thursday Hitorerut-Yerushalmim (Wake up Jerusalem) and Jerusalem Will Succeed made one of their last hits on the campaign trail in an English forum hoping to inform Anglo voters and make them vote for their team.

The head of Wake up Jerusalem’s list, Rachel Azaria, stressed the fact that their party does not answer to anyone. They are the people and they answer to the people and no one else. This list is dedicated only to the residents of Jerusalem and therefore does not have an adjacent party in the Knesset that they must take their cues from. They are young and most of them come from careers in social change.

And while youth can mean a fresh start for the city, Naomi Tsur of Jerusalem Will Succeed holds that against them, for the usual reason of inexperience. Tsur, former head of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Jerusalem decided to make the switch to government after her long battle with creating a sustainable Jerusalem. She explained that their party comes with mayoral candidate Nir Barkat. And if he is elected he will need the support of his coalition to help him implement his policies, thus he will need people from his own party to be a part of the coalition since they already agree with everything he stands for. As far as the young and fresh thing goes, Tsur said they have a young person on their list, as well as other representatives, like a native Russian speaker, French speaker, two pensioners and an Ethiopian.

So as you head to the startup capital of the world’s technologically advanced polling system – placing a paper in an envelope inside a cardboard box – remember to vote for mayor and city council. You can find a list of all the city council choices on The Big Felafel.

Jerusalem Election Diary: Haaretz gets it so wrong

November 7, 2008 - 1:23 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Israeliness, Politics 


I don’t usually write about the same topic two weeks in a row, but, with less than a week to go, the upcoming Jerusalem mayoral elections is so important that I feel compelled to post again.

Last Friday, Haaretz published an editorial slamming mayoral candidate Nir Barkat and endorsing “a responsible haredi” (a code word for Meir Porush, the only ultra Orthodox candidate running for the position). Many Jerusalemites like me were outraged.

The reason for Haaretz’s position is that Barkat has come out in support of building a Jewish neighborhood near the Arab village of Anata, at the foot of the Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill. The area has long been a thorn in the Palestinian’s side: building there would help connect Jerusalem to the satellite city of Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank, but it would also have the effect of preventing territorial contiguity for a new Palestinian state.

Barkat says that building this new Jewish neighborhood will help solve the city’s “shortage of housing for students and young people.” But it’s also a clear ploy to help win over Jerusalem’s “swing vote” – the Modern Orthodox residents who, according to recent polls, are split between Barkat and rival Porush. Given that most of the city’s voters, whether religious or secular, tend to be right wing, it’s not a bad campaign tactic.

Whether you agree or disagree with Barkat’s position, Haaretz – by coming out against the current front-runner in the race – is saying something far more disturbing about Israel’s attitude towards Jerusalem.

Haaretz is, in effect, giving up on Jerusalem. Or perhaps they already have. In the eyes of the Tel Aviv-based newspaper, Jerusalem is already all religious; there’s nothing to do here; no nightlife; it’s too far away; too dangerous; too tense; and ultimately not even worth a visit. The Western Wall, the Old City, the quaint alleyways and gourmet restaurants, the cool summer air, the unique architecture, the spirituality, the Knesset and center of government – all of these are unimportant to the enlightened readers of Haaretz where the heaviness and tension that are part and parcel of Israel’s capital might, God forbid, impede the never ending pursuit of next party.

Indeed, to Haaretz, Jerusalem is not a city at all. It’s a metaphor, a bargaining chip on the geo-political stage to be divided in an eventual peace. Anything getting in the way of that end must be resisted, fought, denigrated. Haaretz couldn’t care less about the problems the city faces, from transportation gridlock to cleanliness and jobs, reverse emigration, religiously-mandated unemployment, and a rapidly deteriorating education system, all areas for which Barkat – in contrast to the other mayoral hopefuls – has clear, step-by-step plans for rapid execution. The quality of life in Jerusalem can go to hell, Haaretz is saying, as long as the next mayor doesn’t stoop to interfere with the inevitable outcome of Oslo and Annapolis.

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