(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
At the end of his third month as mayor, Moshe Lion enjoys significant and surprising support from some of yesterday’s dissenters who have decided to join his coalition: veteran Meretz council representative Laura Wharton; former legal adviser at the municipality and mayoral candidate Yossi Havilio; and Fleur Hassan-Nahum, who quit the Yerushalmim list and joined with candidate Ze’ev Elkin. While Havilio officially supported Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut) after he left the mayoral race, Wharton never expressed her support for any of the final four candidates, but being the representative of a secular left-wing party, her step into Lion’s coalition surprised many.
All three agree that their decision was the best step they could take as leaders prioritizing the best interest of the residents of Jerusalem.
Says Wharton, “The first thing I would point out is the good atmosphere in which I can do my mission under the mayorship of Lion. He surprised me with his gentleness, his ability to talk to each person respectfully and his ability to listen to what others say. This is a significant change from the ways of former mayor Nir Barkat.”
“I can’t yet say far he will go to solve the problems and issues of the pluralist sector,” adds Havilio, “but he certainly sounds and acts as someone who genuinely seeks the best solutions for all.”
Asked if they feel like the “fig leaves” of a Lion administration with 17 haredim in his coalition, Havilio at first agrees with a somewhat bitter smile, but then Wharton remarks that she doesn’t feel like that. “He convinced me that he really wants to listen and achieve the best for all – and we are the best persons to help him reach that goal.”
Hassan-Nahum was given the role of foreign relations for the city. “Actually, Moshe Lion calls me the Foreign Affairs Minister of Jerusalem and this is exactly how I feel.” She adds that the most important change in her eyes is the fact that Lion makes his partners in the coalition feel they can work, promote projects and make a change.
“He never gives us the impression that he knows better than all of us,” continues Hassan-Nahum, who is tasked with coordinating the philanthropic activities for the city and strengthening ties with embassies (in addition to the American, a few others are on their way), as well as with drawing plans for full cooperation between the foundations and the projects promoted by the Jerusalem Development Authority – something that no mayor has thought to do until now.
“He listens. He doesn’t always agree or approve, but we all see that he basically acts as someone whose leadership is based on cooperating with his partners. He delegates authority; he never let us feel useless or superfluous. That’s a great change [from Barkat’s tenure],” adds Wharton.
“It’s not that things are simple,” remarks Havilio. “I hesitated before I joined, but today, even after the relatively short time of three months, I feel I did the right thing. I entered politics to serve the residents of Jerusalem, particularly the pluralist sector. In a coalition with 17 haredi and Orthodox members, this is not an easy task, but I am convinced that I can do much better from inside the coalition and that’s what I am doing here every day.”
Asked what could become a hitch in this rather harmonious picture, both Wharton and Havilio say that there are issues that could ruin the situation.
“We don’t see Lion taking a different course when it comes to issues that Barkat began,” says Havilio. “For example, while Lion is not promoting installation of new haredi schools in secular neighborhoods, he hasn’t changed or stopped Barkat’s plan to open haredi kindergartens for haredim who already live in such neighborhoods,” adds Wharton. “This is not enough to ensure that these haredi kindergartens won’t become the first strongholds to change these last pluralist neighborhoods into haredi ones.”
Asked what they can do to consolidate their mission to represent the pluralist sector, Havilio answers that if he cannot stop such plans, he will quit immediately – but both he and Wharton add that for the moment, despite a few serious issues at stake, there are no signs that Lion is going to let the haredi representatives rule.
“My concern is elsewhere for the moment,” adds Wharton. “We all agree that we should provide housing solutions, but I am afraid that this threatens the character of this city. There is construction everywhere without any thought about infrastructure that already is insufficient; I don’t see detailed plans, but rather more a frenzy of building without forethought and planning. Do we really want this city to become a mega-metropolis of millions of residents?”
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