Video by Eli Mandelbaum
In a far-reaching, exclusive interview with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – ranging from haredim
seeking employment and serving in the IDF to his refusal to divide the city into separate capitals – the mayor offered a candid analysis of the many challenges facing him during his second term.
Barkat, who will be a featured speaker at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on April 6, struck an optimistic tone in his City Hall office last week, despite the capital’s economic malaise, heightened tensions with haredim and Arabs, and foundering peace negotiations.
Asked about the capital’s struggling economy, Barkat, a former hi-tech CEO who garnered millions in earnings, focused on the city’s potential.
“The brand Jerusalem is one of the strongest in the world,” he said. “So, as an entrepreneur, I set a goal to turn around the city economically and focus on the core advantages Jerusalem has. The number one [advantage], of course, is that it is a holy city, a central city and a destination for pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.”
To help jump-start the economy, the mayor said he hopes to increase annual tourism levels from 2 million to 10 million, and transform the capital into “a very bullish city for investors.”
Noting that hotel occupancy levels have nearly doubled, and that the government is increasing spending on the city’s municipal budget to improve its infrastructure, Barkat said “the momentum is picking up.”
With respect to the heated issue of haredim serving in the IDF and seeking employment, Barkat said the tide is turning more favorably than most people may know.
“You’d be surprised by the number of haredi residents who are seeking jobs and are willing to join the army – and not from the force of law but from their own will,” he said.
“And my belief right now is [that the challenge is] not to convince them to join the labor force – the challenge is to create enough jobs to cope with the growing demand among the haredi sector to join the labor force.”
To that end, Barkat said he is creating numerous vocational instruction centers throughout the city to “make sure they get the training and help they need to get hired.”
Asked if he accepts the possible division of the city as a result of ongoing peace negotiations, Barkat made himself clear: “Jerusalem can never be divided,” he said.
“Any attempt, God forbid, to divide the city of Jerusalem will fail.”
Moreover, Barkat said such a division would result in historic dysfunction.
“No city in the history of the world that has been divided ever worked,” he said. “You cannot take a city and divide it. It will never function….
Both ideologically and practically, the city cannot and will not be divided.”
Barkat will be one of several high-profile Israeli politicians and thinkers scheduled to speak at the April conference.