Ofer Berkovitch campaigns with Olim..
(photo credit: YANNIK LISSON)
Ofer Berkovitch walks a fine line. He steers clear of national politics and doesn’t make promises he knows he can’t keep. The 35-year-old mayoral hopeful campaigns on a simple message with an attempt to weave together a broad coalition of Jerusalemites.
Berkovitch and several members of his Hitorerut party visited the Jerusalem Venture Partners Media Quarter on Wednesday night for a “Celebrate Olim” campaign event. The charismatic candidate reviewed his history of leadership, laid out his vision for the city and fielded questions from an audience of immigrants.
Beginning a busy political career after a 6-year-stint in the army, the Jerusalem native was dismayed by the flocks of youth leaving the city. Berkovitch noticed a failing economy, lack of quality jobs, poor transportation and declining education and wanted to make a change.
“Some will call it a naïve decision as a 24-year-old without any political experience or without any budget for this great mission,” Berkovitch said. “But I started. I gathered together people from right wing and left wing. We put the Palestinian question aside… we worked together to establish our social vision for Jerusalem.”
Berkovitch touted his specific emphasis on improving the culture of the city. Leaning on his past achievements, he mentioned accomplishments like expanding Jerusalem’s culture budget, liaising to keep the Smadar Theater in the German Colony open and revitalizing the Machane Yehuda market.
He also made it clear that his allegiance is to Jerusalem and not special interests. Invoking the man he hopes to replace, Berkovitch criticized Nir Barkat and his national political aspirations.
“I’m the only candidate that is committed to the interest of Jerusalemites and not Liberman or Deri or the center of the Likkud.”
His plan focuses on building up the economy through infrastructure and job creation, culture and coexistence. Berkovitch wants to integrate Arabs and Orthodox Jews into society by providing them with jobs, while building more offices to bring in additional tax revenue and attract workers to the Jerusalem metropolitan area.
The candidate is also particularly concerned with sanitation in Jerusalem, underlining the issue multiple times. His plan includes a 475 shekel fine for any form of littering, including “dog poo and cigarette butts.”
He did veer into the politics of identity at times, calling for tolerance and compromise. He wants to maintain the status quo regarding what is open during Shabbat and wants all members of society to be a part of the workforce. Berkovitch boasts a diverse ticket of native-born Jerusalemites, immigrants, secular Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
“We are all here,” Berkovitch said. “No one is going to leave. And we need to understand it’s one city.”
Behind Berkovitch’s grin and composure is a man visibly tired from a deft balancing act. He showed up over 30 minutes late to the event and stumbled over the order of items in his action plan.
At times, his platform appeared too local for an audience who wanted his thoughts on how Jerusalem fits into the Israeli state or how to deal with issues like healthcare that are not necessarily within the scope of the municipality.
He even admitted that his plan might be over-ambitious and that audience members were suggesting good ideas but they weren’t necessarily part of his vision.
Yet, after answering a multitude of sometimes hostile questions without flinching or altering his platform, Berkovitch was all smiles. Maintaining a careful vagueness, he stuck to the economy, culture and wellbeing of the city.
Perhaps it’s Berkovitch’s insistence on his love for the city that has him leading in the polls with less than two weeks until the election.
Recalling his childhood in Jerusalem, Berkovitch listed the city’s diversity, sense of social responsibility, size and intimacy, community and natural beauty.
“All of these great features make me a very strong patriot of this city,” Berkovitch said.