In one of the most compelling and timeless prognostications, the Prophet
Zechariah encourages the people of Israel with a prophecy that the streets of
Jerusalem will once again become full of youth and activity. This prophecy
remained with our people during the tumultuous millennia exile as we turned in
hope and prayer towards our holy city.
Nevertheless, even though we have
redeemed and liberated our eternal and indivisible city, over the past few years
we have witnessed a slow reversal of Zechariah’s vision.
beginning of Mayor Nir Barkat’s term, more than 90,000 residents, mostly the
youth of Jerusalem, have decided to leave, creating a massive gaping hole in the
Unfortunately, this is merely a symptom of a far greater
malaise afflicting our treasured capital. For the past few years, there has been
something gravely amiss in the order of priorities in Jerusalem. While there
have been several high-profile events, like the Formula 1 Road Show, go-cart
races and the Jerusalem Knights in the Old City, which have brought great public
relations results to the mayor and to city hall, the real Jerusalem beyond the
pyrotechnics and pageantry is suffering.
The lifeblood of every city is
its residents. In recent years, its inhabitants have become, at best, unwilling
extras, and at worst, maltreated props, in the theater that has become
The residents, secular and religious, have been largely
ignored as the current administration at the Jerusalem Municipality conjures up
its next high-profile event. Perhaps the most telling and honest statement was
made recently by Barkat, when he said, during an interview with Channel 1, that
“in the next term I will deal with the neighborhoods, it is impossible to do
It is simply astounding that a mayor who held his seat for
five years is promising the people of Jerusalem that only during his next term
will the desperate needs of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem and their residents
We need a dramatic change in the order of priorities in the
city because soon for many it will simply be too late.
More than 10,000
businesses have closed over the past five years. The average wage of a resident
of Jerusalem is half that of someone living in Tel Aviv. However, the cost of
living in Jerusalem continues to rise exponentially, creating an untenable
situation for many, causing the continuing mass exodus.
standards of education in the capital are in free-fall.
According to a
recent poll, Jerusalem is now the 135th worst for education out of 150 Israeli
cities. Almost three-quarters of Jerusalem-based teachers express deep
dissatisfaction with their working conditions and a whole 10 percent fewer
students are passing their matriculation than five years ago. This should be no
surprise as each Jerusalem student receives only a quarter of the financial
investment their fellow students from Tel Aviv receive.
perhaps to supplement many of the high-profile events, a silent tax has been
added to the already exorbitant municipal and other taxes placed on
There has been a significant rise, around 20 percent, in the
number of parking tickets placed on the windows of cars parked on the roads of
However, even this has not helped the administration in Safra
Square avoid a debilitating debt of NIS 220 million.
I submitted my
candidacy to be the next mayor of Jerusalem because I am intimately familiar
with these facts, and I can not stand idly by and watch the situation reach a
point of no return for our beloved capital city.
All my life I have
worked to better the lives of the residents of Jerusalem, whether as
director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, where I founded a committee of
directors-general of government ministries for the development of Jerusalem, or
as the chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority, a position I held for
five years until recently. In both positions, I have brought hundreds of
millions of shekels for the benefit of Jerusalem and its residents.
only imagine the state of the city if at the Jerusalem Development Authority we
had not been involved with projects aimed at providing incentives for young
people to remain, promoted hundreds of ventures designed to improve the local
economy, and upgraded and developed the capital’s physical and technological
Above all, Jerusalem is a city of its residents and the
city will thrive or languish depending on whether they develop or decline. The
priority of the next mayor has to be improving the lives of the people of
Jerusalem and reversing the current negative trends.
This can be achieved
in various ways, including by improving relations between city hall and
government institutions and creating an emergency program in concert with the
relevant ministries for Jerusalem, improving the education system, cleaning the
neglected parts of the city, reinstituting the crucial neighborhood councils
which help the mayor understand the challenges on the ground of the residents,
lowering soaring house prices by ameliorating the blockages in the bureaucratic
system and building affordable housing for first-time buyers and generally
looking at ways to ease and improve the lives of residents.
approach is needed to place Jerusalem back on the top of the national
priorities, and its residents on top of the list of the priorities of city
hall. Only then can we fulfill the true vision of the redeemed, indivisible and
eternal capital city of Israel and the Jewish People.The writer is a
candidate for Jerusalem mayor and served as chairman of the Jerusalem
Development Authority from 2008 until 2013.Editor’s note: Mayor Nir
Barkat’s office declined an offer to write a column to appear alongside this
one. However, Barkat is interviewed in today’s In Jerusalem supplement.