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Photo by: MELANIE LIDMAN
Labor candidates welcomed at J'lem's Mahaneh Yehuda
By MELANIE LIDMAN
01/01/2013
Hilik Bar and Erel Margalit, Nos. 6 and 10 on Labor's party’s electoral list, tour shuk to support small business owners.
 
Despite the Mahaneh Yehuda market’s reputation as a Likud bastion that throws rotten tomatoes at politicians from opposing parties, Labor Party Knesset candidates met with warm support during a tour of the shuk in the capital on Monday morning.

Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar and entrepreneur Erel Margalit, Nos. 6 and 10 on the party’s electoral list, respectively, along with young Labor activists from the capital, toured the shuk to express support for small business owners.

“Jerusalem’s commercial areas are the heart of the city,” Margalit, a businessman who founded Jerusalem Venture Partners and the JVP Media Quarter.

“We want to pump oxygen into small businesses. That’s the heart of the city and we need to return life to the city.”

Margalit credited the shuk’s unique atmosphere of many independent business owners with giving something unique to the capital. “If there is no personality in the center of the city it will fall apart and just be a random collection of neighborhoods,” he said.

Shuk stalwart Eli Mizrahi, who started the first coffee shop in the shuk and whose family has been in the market for generations, brought the Labor Party activists on a tour of the market. “To open a business in Jerusalem you have to go through the 77 gates of hell just to get a bank to give you a credit card with a shekel of credit,” Mizrahi said. “You have to go to the city with seven macherim [paid representatives who know the bureaucratic ropes] and 400 political connections.”

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Mizrahi slammed the municipality for not uniting all of the business services and permits under a central office, as well as the municipality’s policy of charging high property tax rates (arnona) for storage.

“The Israel Museum will always be over there and the Tower of David Museum will always be on the other side, but what about us?” he asked, referring to the small businesses in downtown Jerusalem. “We’re the trigger in the center that makes people actually come here,” he said.

Yossi Mizrahi, Eli’s brother, said that the municipality needs to encourage small businesses with tax breaks and discounts, rather than making things more difficult.

For example, the city charges him NIS 1,500 each year for “irregular signs” on his dried fruit and nut shop.

Margalit told The Jerusalem Post that the Labor Party would continue to stress its expertise in business during the electoral campaign.

“There are 450,000 owners of small businesses [across the country] who employ an average of eight people per business,” he said. “Everyone is talking about hi-tech and industrial zones and that’s great. I also come from that background, but the livelihood of small businesses is the livelihood of the city.”

In past years shuk stall owners have thrown tomatoes and hurled insults at visiting politicians. Avraham Levy, a 37-year-veteran and owner of a fruit stall with a large poster of Menachem Begin on the wall, remembers when mayor Teddy Kolleck of Labor had to be practically rescued during a visit to the market.

levy dismissed Monday’s Labor visit as a “media gimmick” after welcoming the politicians into his stall, and challenged them to come back in two months for a working meeting with the Mahaneh Yehuda Merchants Committee, of which he is a member.

Elhanan Wisnstern, owner of a fish store, said that as the shuk has gentrified with more pubs and coffee shops opening, the politics of the shuk has become more liberal. He himself is an example of this trend: After years of voting for Yisrael Beytenu, he is undecided but leaning in the direction of Labor.

“[Kadima chairman Shaul] Mofaz was also here [at my stall] last week,” Levy said.

“The shuk is for everyone. Anyone who can help is welcome.”
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