(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Proving the axiom that politics makes for strange bedfellows, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced that his former bitter rival, failed 2013 mayoral candidate Moshe Lion, will join his coalition on the city council.
In a statement issued Sunday, Barkat said that Moshe Lion (Yisrael Beytenu), who currently serves as a councilman, will head the community administrations department portfolio and its committee.
He added that Jerusalem councilwoman Yael Antebi, who represents the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, will also join his coalition as deputy mayor after Kobi Kahlon resigns his post in November.
Barkat said the coalition will make his Jerusalem Tatzliah party the city council’s largest, now that it holds six seats.
“I congratulate Moshe Lion for joining the coalition and the Jerusalem Tatzliah party under my leadership,” Barkat said.
“We are facing huge challenges for the continued growth and prosperity of Jerusalem, including increasing the government budgets, improving the quality of life in various areas, and investments in the city’s neighborhoods.
I’m sure Lion will mobilize all his strength and experience to assist us in promoting these areas.”
Barkat’s office denied a report on Channel 10 claiming that the mayor has started drafting thousands of Likud members from across the country in order to run for national office with the party in the next general election. The report said he would not challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Likud leader but intended to seek the post – and the premiership – in the post-Netanyahu era.
A spokesman for Barkat said that the mayor was only focused on developing Jerusalem. He said that Barkat has said clearly that he intends to serve two or three terms as mayor and will decide over the next two years whether to seek a third term.
A Likud MK, however, said that there were people working under Barkat who were registering people to the party, but said that he was under the impression that the mayor was just getting his start in national politics and would have to work hard to build a following in the party.
Lion – whose failed mayoral bid was orchestrated by Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman – said he is joining the coalition “for the sake of the unity of Jerusalem.”
“I decided to join the coalition of Mayor Nir Barkat and reunite with his party with the aim of working together to lead the advancement of Jerusalem,” Lion said. “I congratulate the mayor on this important step, and we will work in full partnership for the sake of the unity of Jerusalem and for all residents and neighborhoods.”
Antebi, who will retain her roles on the city council, echoed Lion’s sentiments that joining Barkat’s coalition will engender a “united Jerusalem.”
Following a bruising 2013 mayoral campaign, Barkat narrowly defeated Lion by garnering 51 percent of the electorate.
Lion, the one-time head of the Prime Minister’s Office, last made headlines in December when he was arrested in connection with a massive corruption scandal that shook the Yisrael Beytenu party.
He was released on house arrest for five days and has not been formally charged.
A few weeks before his arrest, Lion was detained at Ben-Gurion Airport for not declaring thousands of shekels worth of clothing purchased while abroad.
Following a brief interrogation, he was released and never charged with a crime.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report