Some say that politics is like musical chairs: All you have to do is grab the best seat available before your opponents do. Kikar Safra seems to be the perfect setting for such a contest. Here’s the story of how a current scramble in the political musical chairs game is being played out.

As you may recall, the Arts and Culture Department at Kikar Safra had no director for more than six years, ever since Oded Feldman slammed the door and left the city following a clash between him and then municipal director- general Eitan Meir. The department remained without a director until recently when Mayor Nir Barkat finally agreed to appoint Shemi Amsallem to the position.

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Barkat’s first decision upon being elected mayor was to double the budget of the Arts and Culture Department (from NIS 10 million to NIS 20 million) and to choose Pepe Alalu to take on the portfolio.


But now Alalu is out, and nobody is in. Two months after his resignation/dismissal, no one at Kikar Safra is in any hurry to hand over the cultural affairs portfolio to another city council member. After all, what’s two months without a portfolio holder compared to six years without a director? But now a game of musical chairs that is looming on the horizon might render a solution.

David Hadari, representative of the Habayit Hayehudi party on the city council, is head of the Finance Committee. But he has a problem: He is also CEO of the Emunah education institutions across the country – another powerful position. The Committee for Conflict of Interests (yes, there is such a committee) ruled that Hadari had to relinquish one of the positions.

He immediately renounced his salary, but not his position, at Emunah (but don’t worry about him – his salary as deputy mayor is about NIS 37,000). But the committee demanded more. Hadari wouldn’t dream of giving up his title at Emunah, a position he needs in order to pave the way toward his ultimate objective – the Knesset.

A solution could be to move him from the Finance Committee to the arts and culture portfolio, which Hadari himself doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about. After all, it was he who requested, not so long ago, cutting the budgets of the Museum on the Seam (he didn’t like its “leftist” exhibitions) and the Cinematheque (he didn’t appreciate its holding cultural events the week before Tisha Be’av).

But perhaps Hadari won’t have to visit leftist exhibitions or preside over a pluralistic cultural life at all. The culture portfolio might go to Hitorerut leader Ofer Berkovitch. The problem is that while Hadari – and maybe also Berkovitch – are busy vying for the chair of the culture kingdom, the Finance Committee might slip through Hadari’s fingers and fall into the hands of Eli Simhayof, the representative of the Shas party on the city council. For two terms, Simhayof was the head of the Finance Committee, but he is also still under police investigation in the Holyland affair.

According to sources at Kikar Safra, Barkat would love to grant him the position of head of the committee (Simhayof is considered very loyal), to convince Hadari that the culture portfolio is not so bad, and eventually to appease Berkovitch with some gesture for the sake of the youth in the city.

Another possible scenario would be to let Hadari find a solution to his conflict of interest himself, while praying that the police don’t make a decision on the Simhayof issue for a while (Simhayof cannot be appointed deputy mayor or to any other meaningful post until he is cleared by the police) and to keep the culture portfolio in his hands. Considering that Barkat already is in charge of the education portfolio, it is not certain whether the outcome of this game of musical chairs is good news for culture in the city.

In the meantime, everybody is on vacation, so nothing will be confirmed until the next city council meeting at the end of the month.
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