barkat and david horovitz 248.88.
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
The dispute with haredi protesters over Shabbat parking near Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate has been solved, and similar bitter protests over Shabbat operations at the city's Intel plant are also well on the way to resolution, an upbeat Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said on Saturday night.
Barkat was being interviewed by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz before a crowd of 1,500 people at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue to mark his first year in office.
Ironically, the mayor was speaking as unexpectedly large numbers of Jerusalemites gathered at the adjacent Paris Square to protest efforts at religious coercion by the city's haredi community and the purported overly gentle official response to sometimes violent street demonstrations by some in the haredi sector.
An estimated 400 people met at Paris Square, and the crowd swelled to more than a thousand as it marched toward Zion Square in the city center. Participants came from the secular, traditional and modern Orthodox communities, with Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz leading the march.
Store owners whose shops were on the route of the march clapped and sang Hanukka songs, which they said typified the Jews' longing for freedom.
Barkat had been invited to the event, but his spokesman explained that he was unavailable because of the Great Synagogue engagement.
Earlier in the day, a small-scale haredi protest took place outside the offices of Intel at the Har Hotzvim industrial park, over the semiconductor giant's operation of a chip-producing facility there during Shabbat.
The protest, the third in as many weeks, was relatively small and nonviolent; in previous weeks haredi rioters clashed with both the police and journalists covering the event, with some calling the police "anti-Semites" and "Nazis."
Some of the Saturday night marchers were also protesting a recent incident in which a US-born woman was briefly arrested for donning a talit prayer shawl at the Western Wall.
Vowing to "take the city back," the protesters converged for a large rally at Zion Square, waving signs and banners carrying the slogan "Iran is here - Enough of the haredi violence."
Declaring that haredi rioters should be detained and indicted by police, Horowitz told the crowd, "One time it's a parking lot, another time it's Intel, and in another case it's the Pride Parade. But these are just excuses to exhibit the use of force, violence, and coercion."
Merav Cohen, from City Hall's Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Wake Up Jerusalem) political party, said she was thrilled to see such a large turnout.
"We were really surprised by the amount of people that showed up," Cohen told the Post after the rally had ended.
"We knew that this was an issue people cared deeply about, but to see so many Jerusalemites, and people who came from elsewhere, was really the boost we were looking for."
Cohen added that while similar rallies in the past had seen the participation of mostly secular Jerusalemites, Saturday night's modern Orthodox crowd had been an added surprise.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed his support for the protesters.
"Everyone must respect the law. It cannot be that a small group of delinquents will decide whether a parking will be closed on Shabbat or whether to prevent a factory employing thousands of Israelis from operating," Israel Radio quoted Barak as saying.
The march was sponsored by the Forum for a Free Jerusalem - a grouping of different citywide movements and political parties, like Hitorerut, - which began sponsoring counter-demonstrations when members of the haredi community began protesting the opening of the municipal Karta parking lot over the summer.
While those demonstrations became a weekly source of violence when Shabbat after Shabbat, scores of young haredi men arrived at the lot for a showdown with security forces, they have since calmed. Yet the recent demonstrations held outside of Intel's Har Hotzvim plant, Cohen said, had spurred the forum back into action.
"Our message is for both the haredi community and the government," she said. "We won't be intimidated, and we want to see a stop to religious coercion. If we don't deal with it in Jerusalem, it will spread throughout the country, and I think the participation here tonight of many people from out of town, was a reflection of that."
In his interview with Horovitz, Barkat discussed his childhood; his years of army service - including being shot in Lebanon; his career as a businessman, and his role as mayor.
"Between two to three terms," Barkat said when asked how long he intended on serving as mayor of the capital, if reelected. "I think that after 10-15 years, you have to let the new, young people take over. I believe that to make a difference, you need two terms minimum. And then we'll see."
Barkat spoke often about running the city from a business standpoint, having entered politics in the wake of high-tech success. "As mayor, it's much easier than I expected," Barkat said, though he hurriedly clarified that he didn't consider running Jerusalem easy.
"There are two ways to run a municipality: government style and company style. â€¦ In a company, which [was the style] that I decided to take, you work with a professional team, and elected people are like board members. It's fundamentally different."
Barkat also applied a business model within his vision for the city, when asked about building in Jewish east Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Gilo. He said he firmly opposed dividing the city or compromising Israeli sovereignty, and noted: "Jerusalem has to play the role it played two or three thousand years ago, with the city of the center of the world." He added: "But if you want to open up Jerusalem for the benefit of the world, you have to invest in the product. You have to make the experience coming to Jerusalem-not that it's bad today-way better than it is today. You have to invest in culture and bring more peopleâ€¦ you have to open up the city for people to enjoy."
Turning to the Intel dispute, he said, "I believe that hopefully we're behind this issue. I'd prefer not to discuss the details and let the city calm down. The fact is that Intel is here and they're happy, and they are considerate more than they were before, but not because of the pressure. [Rather,] because they realized that they could be considerate. They have not lost a delivery, they have not lost anything. So we should focus on calming the city down, focus on how to build it, and focus on how to keep the young here.
Barkat noted that "It took me years to help Intel reopen their plant here... There are 700 employees of Intel in Jerusalemâ€¦ and some are haredi, women, Arabs, Jews, all over. And Intel is a very, very important plant in the city. And to get them to be satisfied with their investment here is strategic for us. I believe that they are happy, and we must expand-especially in high-tech."
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>