A place for talking and wrestling

Exploring Jerusalem's complex politics.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe with Naftali Bennet (photo credit: PR)
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe with Naftali Bennet
(photo credit: PR)
In one of his most hilarious (and shrewd) stories, Nobel Prize laureate author S.Y. Agnon (1888-1970) described his vision of a future Jewish parliament, which he ironically named Beit Siftotayim (House of Lips). This place where not-so-clever politicians would spend their days talking – moving their lips – for no real purpose, wasn’t where one would find the best intentions or highest ethical standards.
Far be it from me to suggest that a parliament – particularly one of ours – could be a time-wasting “company of scorners” (Psalms 1). However, it does happen that this city council behaves and sounds similar to what Agnon may have had in mind.
City councilman Arieh King, Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe and city councilman Dov Kalmanovitch are all members of the national-religious sector, but in the council they are split into two separate lists that are not always exemplars of Jewish unity. A little more than a year ago, King experienced a blow when, instead of securing the title of deputy mayor following the resignation of his list’s head Shmuel Shkedi, he had to swallow the decision of his party to give the position to Hagit Moshe, an active member of the Bayit Yehudi Party.
Since then the two haven’t spoken, and King hasn’t missed an occasion to express criticism of her – mostly focused on the fact that having been appointed by Mayor Nir Barkat as head of the prestigious finance committee, she owes the mayor total loyalty. Needless to say, the last thing that King is ready to do is to loyally toe Barkat’s line, as he usually accuses the mayor of implementing a leftist agenda that harms Jewish interests in the city – particularly in the Old City.
This is the context for last week’s new mini-scandal involving the financing the Jerusalem Open House Pride Parade. Not trying to be “politically correct,” King says that he opposes Open House activities and the Pride Parade in the streets of Jerusalem, and does not believe that we should finance those activities through the municipality with taxpayer money. When the mayor and city council approved that budget, King declared war against Moshe (head of the finance committee), despite the fact that she herself avoided chairing the committee meeting that approved that budget. For him, it was enough that it happened during her watch.
He then took his criticism directly to the two most sensitive sites – the synagogues and the religious communities in the city.
Flyers accusing Moshe of having enabled the Pride Parade – or at least not preventing it – were distributed to enough synagogues to create a buzz. For Moshe, this was a step too far. She declared that King’s act was nothing less than “spilling her blood,” hinting that it could lead to a physical threat to her from anyone who might take the accusation too far. Moshe accused King of exposing her to death threats through the distribution of the flyers in the synagogues.
Thus, these two council members – both representing the national-religious sector, both holding rightwing and religious positions, both opposed to the Pride Parade in the city and harboring grave reservations regarding any public financial support for the Open House – managed to start a rather ugly war between them. So far, the two remain stubbornly stuck in their positions, exchanging accusations – in total disregard of public opinion.
Considering that at the past two Pride Parades an impressive number of religious Jerusalemites, most of them not part of the LBGT community, decided to join – many in reaction to the murder of Shira Banki two years ago by an ultra-Orthodox man – it is not clear how many national-religious Jerusalemites these two lawmakers actually represent. One thing is clear: they are demonstrating how hatred, jealousy and personal feelings can lead people to act irresponsibly, setting a bad example for the public.