Splits among political parties – whether on a local or national scale – are not rare occurrences. Even Mayor Nir Barkat’s first political career began with a split within his party Jerusalem Will Succeed, which did not succeed in preventing three out of its six original members from quitting. So when the promising new party Hitorerut B’yerushalayim announced in a press release two months ago that it had decided to split from Yerushalmim, the party it ran on the city council with, no one fell off his chair.

True, some were mildly disturbed that these groups – Hitorerut representing young, secular residents and Yerushalmim standing for young couples, both religious and secular – couldn’t find common ground, but these things happen.

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The good news is that, unlike the split in Barkat’s party five years ago, there was no mud-slinging. In fact, the tone has been remarkably respectful on both sides. And there was even a statement issued that they plan to keep “working together for common goals.”

Officially, the issue that led to the split between the two  parties is connected to Cinema City, a huge entertainment complex to be built at the entrance to the city. Following the mayor’s decree, the coalition voted against screening films there on Shabbat. After the vote Ofer Berkovitch, city council member for Hitorerut, had an urgent meeting with Yerushalmim leader Rahel Azaria, and the press release was published the following morning. 

Berkovitch had been shocked to discover that Azaria had voted against Shabbat screenings. He and Meirav Cohen, number two in Hitorerut, say that the vote on Cinema City was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “After all, we had come to say that this city’s institutions should be opened on Shabbat, so how could we vote against opening Cinema City on Shabbat?” says Cohen.

Prior to that, Azaria supported the mayor’s decision to use a private attorney in cases in which the municipal attorney did not provide him with legal advice. What’s more, Azaria had backed Mayor Barkat’s decision to dissolve the Jerusalem Association of Community Councils and Centers and include it within the municipal framework, which Hitorerut voted against.

At Yerushalmim, there is a general feeling of misunderstanding. “We were surprised by the decision to split,” says city councillor Rahel Azaria. And anyway, since then, “It has been business as usual. We’re separated, but officially nothing has changed, since the whole judicial process hasn’t been done,” adds an official source inside Yerushalmim. “In fact, we don’t really understand the whole thing. We still share the same goals, the same desire to promote local issues for the benefit of the residents of Jerusalem – so what is the problem exactly?”

Whether the situation is closer to the feeling at Yerushalmim or to the very low-profile frustration of Hitorerut, one thing is sure: The split between the two parties has not surprised the haredim on the city council.

“Once again,” says a representative of the United Torah Party, “for the sake of good relationships, the secular members have proven that they cannot unite around an important shared goal – unlike we haredim.”

Sources close to the mayor do not seem overly concerned about the split. While Yerushalmim is considered to be very loyal to the coalition and Hitorerut might seem less committed or at least more inclined to challenge some of the mayor’s decisions, no one on the sixth floor at Kikar Safra has the slightest fear that either of the two will step out of the coalition. “Where would they go? To the haredi parties?” asks the haredi city council member rhetorically.
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