While former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski was greeted by a crowd of supporters near his home in the capital’s Sanhedria neighborhood on Sunday, after he was released from police custody to house arrest, there was little support for him or his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in the Mahaneh Yehuda market, where shoppers and shopkeepers expressed disapproval over the widening Holyland corruption scandal that allegedly involves them both.
While differing opinions were heard about the details of the scandal, in which both former mayors, along with a slew of municipal officials, allegedly accepted millions of shekels in bribes to advance construction approvals for the Holyland luxury housing complex, all agreed that City Hall had been tarnished by the affair.
“Who could a believe a word that comes out of that building?” asked an elderly butcher inside the bustling market. “I’ve known for years that they were all crooks, but I didn’t think it was this bad.”
Others were a bit more diplomatic.
“It’s a problem,” said Eliyahu Mizrahi, who runs the Ranan Barber Shop on Rehov Mahaneh Yehuda. “Personally, I don’t believe that there’s corruption going on there now, but it’s a shame that we’ve had these kinds of people running the city.
“Ask anyone here in the market and they’ll tell you,” he said. “Every thief should go to jail.”
Mizrahi’s comments reflected not only many Jerusalemites’ opinion of both former mayors, but the potential Pandora’s box that has now been opened with regards to other local construction projects.
Last week, various city council members began raising questions over contracts that led to the construction of the Mamilla shopping center near the Old City, the nearby YMCA project and the ongoing construction of the city’s light rail system, among others.
“It’s too bad that we have to hear about these sorts of things,” Mizrahi said. “And in our capital, no less. I really hope it starts to get cleaned up. All of those who have been involved in bribery, corruption, you name it – they should all go to prison.”
At the nearby Hochmat Habarekas, employee Yossi told The Jerusalem Post
that he, too, was angered by the unfolding Holyland scandal, although he did not believe the corruption extended to the present municipal administration.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the current leadership,” Yossi said. “[Mayor Nir] Barkat is not corrupt, if you ask me, he’s too honest – and sometimes, that can be bad too.”
And while Yossi said he had high hopes for Barkat – “he’s young, he’s smart he’ll do well” – he agreed that City Hall now had a cloud over it, which needed to be lifted “with good things, not more of the same.”
But according to Moni Mordechai, a media adviser in Tel Aviv, it would take more than just “good things” to repair City Hall’s image with everyday Jerusalemites.
“If City Hall wants to clean up its image, then [city officials] need to go directly to the people who are harboring this current, negative image,” Mordechai said.
“It’s going to take more than just talk,” he said. “This is a situation that needs action. City Hall has to go to the people, and not just rich people, but all of Jerusalem’s residents, and show them, this is what we’re doing, and this is what we’re doing for you.
“They should be very clear about all the public projects they’re
doing,” he said. “We heard all this talk about public housing, about
inexpensive housing for middle-class families and for students – well,
where is it?
“I’m not saying the mayor hasn’t already begun to
do some of this,” he continued. “And I don’t think it’s an easy job,
but if City Hall wants to curry favor with Jerusalemites, then they
need to appeal directly to them, and show them exactly what’s being
done on their behalf.
“It’s not too late to turn this around,”
Mordechai said. “Once they begin to do that, the public’s faith will
begin to be restored.”