The daily grind

The rumor mill at Safra Square was in high gear this week, but in reality nothing has changed - yet.

Safra Square 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Safra Square 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Safra Square has experienced a whirlwind of rumors over the last few days. At press time, it was still not clear which of these rumors had the potential to turn into solid facts and which were born – and would fade out – in some city councillor’s mind.
First, the coalition. Last week’s monthly city council meeting ended with mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to expel Rachel Azaria from the coalition. Even before the end of the meeting, rumors – accompanied by twinkles in the eyes of at least two city council members – promised that the separation wouldn’t last too long. “At most one month,” said city councillor No. 1. “If it lasts for more than two weeks, I am not myself,” said city councillor No. 2.
Well, on Thursday the first week ended, but already by Sunday, the eventual return of the rebel was the talk of the municipality’s corridors. By Monday morning, by the way, this rumor had begun to fade; an official answer (but not one that could be quoted) from the mayor’s office clarified that “nothing has changed for the moment.” Meaning that Azaria is still expected to present her case for petitioning the High Court of Justice against the municipality – something she confirmed herself that she was still not ready to do.
The second rumor had been born during the city council meeting on November 3. Just before the Azaria item, Barkat mentioned the Teddy Stadium budget for renovation. But it wasn’t just the monetary cost that was at stake; it was the stadium’s status and the memory of its namesake, legendary former mayor Teddy Kollek.
The renovations will cost NIS 30 million, which would come from the national football lottery (Toto) revenues. However, at the meeting, Barkat pointed out that Toto could, according to its rules, request that any project it funded be named after itself. This means, continued Barkat, that the stadium, which was named after Kollek while he was still alive and was one of many projects he initiated in the city, would become the Jerusalem Toto Stadium and lose any reference to Kollek. The mayor explained that he had refused to cave in and had finally succeeded in reaching a compromise he deemed acceptable: The stadium will remain “Teddy,” but prominent signboards indicating Toto’s generous support will be displayed almost everywhere in and around it.
Readers who feel anger and perhaps even disgust over this should know that they are not alone – most of the city council members (even from the haredi benches) expressed their dissatisfaction. So far, so good.
Except that opposition member Meir Turgeman maintains that the reality is slightly different. According to Turgeman, these are indeed the rules of Toto, but since Kollek was such an exceptional figure, the lottery institution didn’t dare request to change the name, and Barkat’s fears were in vain.
“They knew it would be unacceptable, and right from the beginning announced they would just require the signboards,” he told In Jerusalem. “After all, it’s their right; NIS 30m. is a lot of money.”
Thus began the rumor, which was still, on Monday, at the center of many passionate debates at Safra Square: Was there a threat to Kollek’s memory, or was it only in the mayor’s mind? But then came the third rumor. Following the announcement that the Gan Hamelech (King’s Garden) project – which entails the demolition of 22 out of the 88 illegal houses built by Arab residents of the Silwan neighborhood – would be submitted to the District Planning and Construction Committee (which happened this week), three members of Meretz announced (for the second time) that they would leave the coalition.
Well, Meretz is still in the coalition. No, its members haven’t changed their position on the project; yes, they are still opposed. It’s just that they’ve decided to wait until the last moment to leave – or at least until there is no other option. Meretz member Meir Margalit, the man behind the strongest opposition to the project, explained: “From the moment the project is submitted to this committee, we have 60 days to receive the public’s objections. Meanwhile, the residents of Silwan are preparing an appeal against it to the High Court. So we have at least 60 days during which nothing will happen. Why should we leave now?”
In case any readers have lost some details on the way, here is a quick summary of what actually happened: nothing. Azaria is still exiled, Meretz is still in the coalition, and the municipal stadium is still named after Teddy Kollek.