GARBAGE PILES up outside Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem yesterday. (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
As a tour guide, I never felt the need to warn my tourists about anything particularly upsetting, even during waves of terrorism and war. They knew the situation and I took the necessary precautions. But recently I finally felt the need to give my tourists an honest warning that they were about to come face to face with a truly uncomfortable situation.
For the third year in a row, disgusting piles of trash coat Agrippas and Jaffa streets, lining and filling Mahaneh Yehuda market. Encouraged by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and with his support, sanitation workers have again gone on strike, allegedly to protest unfulfilled budget promises of the Finance Ministry.
Mayor Barkat claims that the fault lies with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, while Kahlon points his finger right back at Barkat. Jerusalemites, meanwhile, are caught between these two massive egos, suffering amid the filth once again.
It appears the strike is now over, but during the past few days, one thing became abundantly clear: no matter who was actually to blame, Barkat was to blame. Our city needs a leader, a role he obviously refuses to play.
Mayor Barkat, you’ve done many good things for this city during your tenure as mayor. You’ve brought increases in cultural events, some decent plans for future city planning, a start to attracting businesses and jobs here, and have also started to increase the number of hotel rooms in this city. In all of those areas, you certainly could have done a lot more, but they were all marked improvements over the past. Steps in the right direction.
All those positives, however, have been overshadowed by what you’ve failed to do in other areas. The current situation serves as a glaring example.
Two years ago when the first garbage strike hit, you might have been able to legitimately argue that it was unforeseen and/or unavoidable. But when it happened again last year, you revealed your true motives.
A leader who cared about this city would have spent the intervening year formulating a plan to avoid a second strike. He would also have come up with a contingency plan on the off- chance that it did happen again. By instead focusing your efforts on blaming Kahlon, you revealed how willing you were to use Jerusalem’s residents as a bargaining chip. If we got angry enough, you implied, we’d support you and place additional pressure on the ministry. It didn’t really work, however. Instead, Jerusalemites simply fumed in anger and disbelief.
This year, you upped your game, and actually used the past year to do something ahead of the now-annual garbage strike. Of course, you didn’t actually create a plan to prevent it. Instead you doubled down on your initial strategy. You spent money from the city’s budget to place banners along public roads proclaiming, “Kahlon, ultimately against Jerusalem. Jerusalemites are not worth less.” By installing them months ahead of the current strike, you showed that you knew we would have to suffer through a strike once again.
I have my problems with Kahlon as well, but drumming up dissent against him will not help keep our streets clean. Furthermore, how you can justify spending public funds on a blatantly political advertisement is beyond me. I’m not even certain it is legal. But just think how your time and our money could have been better spent. Maybe on dealing with the issue, instead of trying to win the public to your side? You were recently quoted in the pages of this paper as saying, “I will not let political vengeance harm the residents of Jerusalem.” And there is some truth in that statement. You didn’t let political vengeance harm the residents. You harmed them yourself in service to your own political vengeance! If a bus could actually pass the garbage-laden streets, I’d say you just threw your constituents under one.
You’ve now had two full years to deal with this problem. And for those two full years you’ve repeatedly blamed your political rival instead of stepping into the role of a true leader. A leader sacrifices his own glory for the good of those he represents.
It is no secret that you are considering a run for national office in the future. And in Israeli society, people often look to brash egotism as a sign of power in their leaders. You may be put- ting forward an image of yourself as an uncompromising bastion of strength, in the hopes that it will make you look like a better candidate on a national scale. But if and when you run, I’ll remember a different picture of you. As the public face of Jerusalem, the portrait you are truly projecting is that of the city this week – a slimy, wet pile of rubbish.
Mayor Barkat, I beg of you: Throw out the trash, along with your ego.The author is a licensed tour guide and proud, caring resident of Jerusalem. He wants to see this city reach its full potential.