Garbage in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The mounds of trash have been swept from the streets of the capital since the end of the three-day municipal strike on Tuesday, but the stench lingers. Jerusalem’s residents deserve much better treatment than they are subjected to by both the local and national governments.
Residents who pay the highest property taxes in the nation were not merely denied garbage collection due to an ongoing confrontation between Mayor Nir Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, their lives were disrupted further by the canceling of schools and the lack of other vital municipal services and even the halting of the light rail whose tracks were blocked by trash.
The crippling strike came to an end only after the personal intervention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who after years of ignoring the problem finally invited Barkat to appear at the next cabinet meeting so the ministers might come up with a solution that has so far eluded the citizens of the capital.
Thanks for the invitation; this situation never should have escalated into a crippling strike.
Somehow Mayor Barkat could see no alternative to leading the walkout by the municipality’s workers and the city’s labor unions in his bid to pressure the Treasury over an NIS 300 million funding gap in the state’s 2017 budget for Jerusalem. There was also the matter of the Finance Ministry’s failure to transfer a one-off grant of NIS 800m. to supplement its annual budget.
“The refusal of the Finance Ministry to transfer the funds that were promised to Jerusalem will lead to fatal damage to Israel’s capital,” Barkat said, adding that “this would be the direct responsibility of the finance minister.” Barkat warned that the municipality would be forced to lay off hundreds of workers if a solution to the standoff were not found.
On the other hand, the ministry maintained that the city’s lack of funds was a result of mismanagement. Kahlon asked Interior Minister Arye Deri to appoint a city accountant to stop the municipality from holding Jerusalem residents “hostage to foreign interests.”
Without an approved budget, the capital must continue to function on the basis of last year’s budget, but can do so only until the end of March. If after that, there is still no solution and no approved budget, the city council would likely be dissolved and municipal elections would be held.
Barkat is demanding that the city receive the entire sum directly from the Finance Ministry and not from the respective ministries involved – such as Welfare and Education. But now even the general sum of the grants – the capital city grant and the municipal balance grant – is the subject of disagreement.
Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman apologized for the strike, saying in a statement that the chaos caused by shuttered kindergartens and three days without garbage collection had gotten “out of control.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of young Chinese tourists stepped carefully among piles of garbage besieging the capital’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, taking photos. A woman in the group told The Jerusalem Post
that they hadn’t noticed there was a strike. “Actually, we didn’t know there was anything unusual going on,” she said. “We thought it was like this all the time.”
Fortunately a citywide strike in Jerusalem does not happen all the time. Indeed, unlike the nauseating heat of the August 2009 general strike, this one happened luckily in the winter – perhaps a time for cooler heads to prevail.