Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat leads protest at the Knesset.
(photo credit: COURTESY JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)
Angered over a purported shortfall of funding from the Finance Ministry as the capital reels from a devastating economic downturn, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat led hundreds of protesters who blocked the entrance to the Knesset with garbage trucks Monday morning.
Surrounded by city merchants, residents, council members and municipal workers, Barkat demanded that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon meet with him immediately to discuss the additional NIS 450 million he is demanding to balance the city’s 2016 budget.
“The Finance Minister needs to give an explanation as to how it is possible that since he took office he hasn’t found time to meet even once to discuss the aid to Jerusalem and refuses even today to help business owners who were seriously harmed by the security situation,” Barkat said.
“We call on Kahlon to stop disconnecting from Jerusalem and not to play petty politics, but rather to announce wide support for Jerusalem instead of holding the residents of the city and the merchants as captives. In this difficult period, Jerusalem must be above all else.”
Moreover, Barkat accused Kahlon of personalizing the impasse.
“He is trying to make this a personal war, but the expectation of the finance minister is to strengthen Jerusalem, particularly during this time,” Barkat added. “This is not a personal matter; it is a national interest that all residents of the state expect from him.”
Of the NIS 450m., Barkat said NIS 400m. must go to security needs, educational and cultural institutions, economic growth, a plethora of welfare services, and basic cleaning and maintenance.
An additional NIS 50m. is needed for businesses owners whose profits have been cut in half, or worse, he said.
The Finance Ministry responded with a statement accusing Barkat of mismanagement.
“Apparently Nir Barkat’s Jerusalem Municipality suffers from serious managerial problems, otherwise there is no explaining how they’ve wasted the money allocated to them in recent years. The Finance Ministry will continue to develop and advance the city along with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin,” the statement read.
Following Elkin’s appointment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May, Barkat derided the move as counterproductive and vowed not to report to him.
“Why do we need a Jerusalem Affairs Ministry here? They have no accountability and no responsibility. The only thing they can do is interfere with what we’re doing. So I told the prime minister to please stop this, because it interferes with municipal projects and the national government,” ” Barkat had said following the appointment.
Meanwhile, citing the city’s ongoing growth and accompanying budgetary needs, Barkat, who claimed to maintain a balanced budget, said Kahlon’s refusal to cooperate is unprecedented.
“Every year the municipality increases revenue and maintains a balanced budget,” he said Monday.
“This year... is the first time the finance minister has refused to transfer the funding needed in the capital of Israel for the current state of the city.”
By withholding the infusion of money, Barkat said Kahlon will “set the city back years.”
Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Yael Antebi also took Kahlon to task for not practicing the populist rhetoric for which he is known.
“As a member of Knesset, Kahlon promoted a law to increase the grants allocated to the capital,” Antebi said during an Army Radio interview.
“What’s happened now that it is in his hands? Did it evaporate like his promise to take care of the gas monopoly?” Stating that Kahlon is “not serious” about dealing with the capital’s security and economic challenges, Barkat said protests will continue until “Jerusalem gets the budget it deserves.”
While the finance minister did not meet with Barkat on Monday, according to unconfirmed reports, he sent Construction Minister Yoav Galant in his stead.