Mayor Nir Barkat leads a 2015 protest in front of the Treasury Ministry, against what he deems ‘unfair budget cuts’ by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In an apparent rebuke to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who led a blistering, no-holds-barred campaign against the Finance Ministry for not providing timely emergency funds for the capital’s beleaguered business owners, the ministry approved a NIS 100 million aid package – but insisted it be overseen by Barkat’s rival.
Upon announcing the agreement on Sunday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon added the caveat that recently appointed Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, whom Barkat has vocally denounced as impugning his authority, be in charge of the allocations.
Indeed, when Elkin’s position was announced in May, Barkat lambasted the “useless, ridiculous ministry” as an unnecessary layer of government bureaucracy and vowed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would not report to Elkin.
“I will continue to work with the prime minister to further the interests of the people of Jerusalem, but will not report to Ze’ev Elkin,” Barkat said at the time.
“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.”
According to sources, Netanyahu decided to give the Likud MK, who is also the minister of Immigrant Absorption, the additional portfolio to compensate him for giving up the Strategic Affairs Ministry to the Likud’s No. 2, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Meanwhile, it has been widely reported, although not confirmed, that Barkat, a Likud member, may consider running for prime minister in the next election.
Matters between the government and Barkat became more inflamed in early November, when he launched a protracted media campaign questioning Kahlon’s stewardship of the capital after Kahlon did not promptly agree to the mayor’s demand for emergency funds.
However, the impasse reached a crescendo two weeks ago, when Barkat led a demonstration of hundreds of business owners and city officials who blocked the entrance to the Knesset with garbage trucks to protest a shortfall of the municipality’s 2016 budget.
The Finance Ministry responded with a statement accusing Barkat of fiscal 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 ministry said. “The Finance Ministry will continue to develop and advance the city along with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.”
Based on Kahlon’s plan, Elkin will allocate NIS 70 m. to the Jerusalem Development Authority, the main body dealing with economically revitalizing Jerusalem; NIS 20 m. will go toward a marketing campaign focusing on Jerusalem, and another NIS 5 m.
is earmarked toward a fund that gives loans with favorable terms to small businesses.
The remaining funds will go toward reducing the burden of payments and debt collection on some small businesses that have been affected by the terrorism wave, and increasing the number of students in Jerusalem.
Despite being sidelined by Kahlon, Barkat attended the Sunday meeting announcing the deal and said he was pleased with the final result.
“Jerusalem is above everything,” he said at the meeting. “I’m happy that we decided to put political disputes aside and cooperate and do the best thing for Jerusalem.”
In a subsequent joint statement released by the Finance, Tourism and Jerusalem Affairs Ministries announcing the aid package, the municipality and Barkat were not mentioned.