Two days after members of the Eda Haredit community violently protested the opening on Shabbat of a municipal parking lot near Jerusalem's Old City, Mayor Nir Barkat told a gathering of economic experts and professionals that boosting tourism to the capital was the main way to break out of the current recession and combat the city's growing unemployment rate. "Jerusalem should be thought of as a best-selling brand," Barkat said Monday, at the conference entitled "Employment in Jerusalem during the Economic Crisis," jointly sponsored by the municipality, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and the National Employment Service. "Its name is its biggest selling point and the key to increasing employment in this city is via tourism," he said, emphasizing that stimulating tourism in Jerusalem, the spiritual center for three major religions, would, in turn, create employment. "Employment is the best way to help people to stand on their own feet, and the more people are independent the stronger Jerusalem will become," said Barkat. The mayor told The Jerusalem Post that he did not believe Saturday's protest would disrupt his plans to boost tourism and insisted that he would not give into pressure from the haredi community to close the parking lot. "The parking lot will remain open," he said, adding: "This is not a joke, the previous situation [in terms of parking for visitors to the Old City] was very dangerous and we were asked by the police to find a solution. "Opening this parking lot does not break Shabbat or change the city's religious status quo but is a humanitarian gesture to stop people from getting hurt." Barkat referred to an incident in the suburb of Ein Kerem, a popular tourist destination on Saturdays, where a pedestrian was killed due to lack of orderly parking arrangements. A municipal parking lot there is now open on Shabbat. At the conference, Barkat also talked about encouraging hi-tech and bio-tech firms to open branches in Jerusalem and efforts to improve ties with towns on the capital's outskirts, such as Ma'aleh Adumim and Givat Ze'ev. In addition, he pointed to Jerusalem's unique challenges, namely certain populations that were not part of the workforce for religious and cultural reasons. "We need to encourage the weaker segments of our population to join the workforce," said Barkat, adding that the municipality was already working closely with the government's Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem to address the capital's economic problems. "Jerusalem is a very unique city with unique problems," Haim Amar, director of Jerusalem's Employment Department, told the Post following the conference. "The government is very quick to make promises, usually on Jerusalem Day, but afterwards it does not always follow through." He said that one of the main challenges was enticing the capital's large haredi and Arab communities to join the workforce. Amar indicated, however, that in recent years there had been a move by the haredi community to find work. Figures released by the municipality last month show there has been a 70 percent growth in that direction over the past five years. Yossi Farhi, director of the National Employment Service, said the government sees great potential in the haredi community, whose members had had the ability and incentive to be excellent contributors. "We just need to provide them with the right tools," he said.

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