A golden glow has returned to a booming Jerusalem, with improving infrastructure,
exciting cultural happenings, world-class sports events and happier residents.
We Jerusalemites feel more confidence in the air and see less garbage on the
streets. We hear the sounds of construction tools renewing our old-new city,
with sketches outside the sites giving a taste of modern wonders to come. We
delight in new projects like “The First Station” and the Railway Park,
once-embarrassing dumps transformed into choice destinations where religious and
non-religious, Jews and Arabs, mix casually, happily,
Unfortunately, the joy in our hearts is competing with nervous
butterflies in many stomachs. This Jerusalem renaissance’s spark-plug – and
symbol – Mayor Nir Barkat is up for re-election. We desperately want him to win
– and fear for our city’s future if he loses.
Regular readers of this
column will note my enthusiastic endorsement of Mayor Barkat’s re-election comes
despite occasional criticisms. But now, looking around, I am awash in evidence
of Mayor Barkat’s success, and regret my earlier impatience. Jerusalem is
emerging from the doldrums and starting to soar.
Since Barkat became
mayor, true to his first name, which means to plow or cultivate a field, he has
made his beloved city flourish. Comparing today to four years ago, the number of
new jobs created annually has doubled as the number of business license
inquiries jumped by 42 percent. Helping that has been a drop in waits for new
licenses from 219 days to 175 days – still too long but a significant boost
Culturally, the number of activities has increased by 300%,
thanks to a quadrupling of municipal support for fabulous events such as the
Jerusalem light festival, which illuminates different corners of the Old City at
night, and Jerusalem’s Season of Culture, a smorgasbord of artistic delights.
Such activities help explain the surge in internal tourism, with a jump of 36%
in the number of Israelis from outside the city spending nights in Jerusalem
Mayor Barkat understands that Jerusalem is both an international
treasure and a complex city in a dynamic, diverse democracy that must serve its
Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents.
His administration has built 174
new classrooms for Arab students, named 86 previously unnamed streets, and
started 30 new road projects in the Arab sector.
These advances are part
of a broader infrastructure initiative that has seen the roadwork budget
increase sevenfold while tripling the sidewalk budget.
In fact, Mayor
Barkat’s accomplishments are ruining that great Israeli pastime of grousing
about the declining city and its sclerotic bureaucracy.
Yes, more work
remains. I still have not secured a crosswalk at the dangerous Emek
I still believe Jerusalem homeowners
should receive a blanket amnesty for all the alterations made to their houses
over decades, provided they disclose fully, allowing for safety inspections and
paying full arnona, or property tax – because all these improvisations create a
legal gray zone undercutting respect for the rule of law.
advocate viewing foreign owners of “ghost houses” as friends, not foes, who
should be invited to contribute to a special fund that would build up the
schools in their local neighborhoods, based on the (usually higher) property
taxes in their home cities. And I still think the municipal education system can
teach our students better (even as I note the 5.6% growth in national religious
and secular students in the past four years after a decade and a half of
plummets). But that also explains why Mayor Barkat needs a second term – to
build on his successes and expand his agenda.
Jerusalemites can be proud
that their mayor is a true Zionist, a smart visionary, a first-class mensch, and
that increasingly rare species, an honest politician. His clean cut look
reflects his spotless record in an age of too much corruption, while the decent
vibe he generates suggests that nice guys can finish first, even in our cynical
This October, Jerusalem-lovers who vote for Barkat will not only
be voting for this indefatigable mayor who has proved himself these past few
years, we will also be voting against the petty provincial politics that
demoralized Jerusalem in the years before his election.
We must free
Jerusalem from the ultra-Orthodox power brokers who too frequently view the city
as theirs exclusively rather than Israel’s capital, the Jewish people’s heart
and soul, a center of world religions, and a modern city that must function
Let me be clear: my issue is not with “the haredim” en masse
but with a clique of political thugs more interested in advancing their own
interests than in making Jerusalem bloom.
A vote for Barkat is a vote
against such bullying and for Barkat’s bridge building.
It is a vote
against using city politics to score points nationally or to milk the municipal
coffers and for elevating the city to shine internationally. It is a vote
against a politics of demagoguery and division, pitting one sector against
another, and for a politics of unity in Barkat’s coalition of decency.
is a vote against imposing a medieval sensibility on this ancient city and a
vote for cultivating a modern sophistication while defending the city’s
It is a vote for all Jerusalemites, religious, secular
and haredi; Jewish, Arab and Christian; liberal, centrist, and conservative;
young, middle-aged and old.
As a recent oleh, a rookie Jerusalemite, I
will proudly cast my first municipal vote for Nir Barkat – whom I have never met
– for my sake, for my kids’ sake, for my new city’s sake. I desperately hope we
all mobilize to fund his campaign, get out the vote, and re-elect him by the
wide victory margin he has earned.
The author is professor of history at
McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow. His
latest book, Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, was
just published by Oxford University Press.
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