Working behind the curtains

Shabbat table 521 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Shabbat table 521
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
For those who observe Shabbat, there is a known sensation just before the sacred day begins: the race to get everything ready on time. No matter how early you’ve started to organize things, no matter whether it’s winter or summer, the ticking of the clock raises the sense of anxiety, and by the time the sun sets, many feel completely on edge.
That has been the general feeling at Safra Square for the past few weeks, with reelected mayor Nir Barkat trying to create a new coalition from the newly elected city council members.
As we may remember, Barkat’s victory was much less easily obtained than he and his staff expected three months ago. The sudden entry of unexpected challenger Moshe Lion (backed by two of the most powerful politicians on the national political scene – MKs Avigdor Liberman of Likud Beytenu and Arye Deri of Shas) was not only an unpleasant surprise, it was a serious challenge to Barkat, who almost lost the election due to Lion’s ability to rally a large part of the haredi constituency around him.
What finally prevented Lion’s victory was a shift that has been taking place within haredi society – namely that it no longer votes as a single bloc according to the instructions of the sector’s main spiritual leader. The divisions in the haredi community will soon have significant implications for the country as a whole, but for now – at least as far as the Jerusalem City Council is concerned – they have caused a lot of headaches for Barkat’s team.
This time, the biggest headache (perhaps even heartache?) was mostly among the parties that officially supported Barkat during the elections and expected to be immediately rewarded with the best portfolios and the title of deputy mayor (on a payroll). But surprise, surprise, it didn’t work that way. Barkat first wanted to bring all the potential trouble-makers into the coalition, and therefore opted first to include the two new city councillors from the United Jerusalem list (a breakaway party from Bayit Yehudi), who had openly called to vote for Lion. Bayit Yehudi, which supported Barkat and won only one seat on the city council, joined as well, but it took two days to reach that point.
The ad-hoc coalition of Ofer Berkovitch’s Hitorerut B’Yerushalayim party, Rachel Azaria’s Yerushalmim, and Meretz-Labor under the leadership of Pepe Alalu – with each party vowing not to enter Barkat’s coalition without the others, and opposing the inclusion of United Jerusalem No. 2 Aryeh King for his alleged racist positions on Arab residents – didn’t last long. Azaria and Berkovitch are now deputy mayors, as is Haim Epstein, who represents the radical Bnei Torah faction of the Lithuanian haredi sector and who refused to support (officially or not) Lion’s candidacy (mostly because of his links with Liberman). Epstein was actually the first to receive a deputy mayor post, although he has only one seat on the council.
As for the haredi factions that openly supported Lion, even though he never obtained more than a public blessing from their spiritual leaders (rather than the official agreement that would have sent all haredi voters to him) – well, they had to wait for a while in submission to Barkat’s good will, but all eventually ended well for them, too.
Barkat’s conditions were that neither Itzhak Pindrus (the architect of the idea to bring Lion into the race) nor Eli Simhayoff (who is still on trial for his alleged part in the Holyland real-estate affair) could be a deputy mayor. Yossi Daitch (who represents the hassidic haredi stream) and Israel Kellerman are the deputy mayors for that sector, and Zvika Cohen, who is new at Safra Square, is deputy mayor for Shas.
As for Barkat’s own list, Kobi Kahlon and Meir Turgeman – who was once Barkat’s fiercest opponent – are now deputy mayors as well.
And who remains outside? Well, Meretz-Labor and Lion, who, at least for the moment, is still in Jerusalem.
And the tense, Shabbat-like preparations? Those went well, too – all the portfolios and agreements were signed before the first assembly of the new city council, which took place last week, as required by the rules.