An interview with Meir Turgeman

Meir Turgeman, one of the mayor’s deputies, wants to widen the scope of those eligible for the title of Yakir Yerushalayim (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Meir Turgeman, one of the mayor’s deputies, wants to widen the scope of those eligible for the title of Yakir Yerushalayim
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Marking one year at the helm of the local planning and construction committee, Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman – of Mayor Nir Barkat’s Jerusalem Will Succeed list at the city council and also a member of the Likud for 15 years – sat down with In Jerusalem and answered some questions.
Turgeman, religiously observant, married and the father of four, replaced former deputy mayor Kobi Kahlon, who left the political scene after his brother, Moshe Kahlon, became finance minister in the national government.

This committee is often a battlefield between opposing political forces. How do you manage to navigate the committee’s duties?
I can’t deny it – there are political pressures. I receive phone calls trying to influence my professional decisions, but so far I have managed to stand firm in the face of these pressures. Sometimes I agree; other times I don’t.
Members of the committee, who represent different political sides and parties, have all gotten the message loud and clear: Nobody pushes me around.

But things are not so easy in regard to the Arab neighborhoods, are they?
Not true; I promote construction plans for all sectors.
I recently approved 54 housing units in Beit Hanina, for instance. I make no distinctions between projects, whether Arabs or Jews. Sometimes we approve more Arab construction projects than Jewish, it turns out.

How do you react when a phone call comes in asking you to remove a proposal from the committee’s agenda because of its political sensitivity?
I don’t like it. It makes me feel bad – not because of the political aspect, but because I care about the residents.
They take the time to come to the committee’s meeting, prepare themselves and their materials and expect responses to their requests. How should I feel if I am forced remove their plan? How can I tell them not to come because the prime minister has asked me to remove the project from the agenda?

Have you seen a growth in construction plans from the Arab sector lately?
The major complaint is that even when they act according to the rules and submit plans, they are turned down.
False. This is absolutely not true. Residents – haredim or Arabs – have learned that we work in a professional way only. I am totally aware of the needs of the Arab residents and we try to find solutions. I am busy promoting a new large project for them, but it is too early to talk about it now.
Affordable housing here, especially for young couples: Do you have some news on that?
I am currently working on a brand-new project – to encourage contractors to build small apartments for rent. We are working with the Finance Ministry to obtain their support for this project; they will provide the land (state land for free) and the contractors will build 50-sq.m. apartments that will be rented for NIS 3,000 a month for a period of 20 years. After that, the apartments will become the property of the builders, and in the meantime young couples will have access to apartments rented at reasonable fixed prices.
I am confident that this project will come to fruition soon and completely change the situation here.