A million good reasons

Is the mayor’s NIS 1 million campaign to secure much greater funds for Jerusalem justified?

Netanyahu, don't lose Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Netanyahu, don't lose Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
NIS 1 million – that’s the price our mayor is ready to pay for a campaign that will say loud and clear to the Israeli government that Jerusalem deserves the best – or more accurately, a special budget.
After several failed attempts to get through to the Treasury and the prime minister, through the Knesset committees and some empathetic MKs, Mayor Nir Barkat is raising the stakes: In a dramatic decision approved last week by the city council, NIS 1m. from the city’s budget will be devoted to an aggressive campaign accusing the prime minister of abandoning Jerusalem due to his lack of financial support.
Is it too much? Is it reasonable? Does the mayor have the right to do so? After all, taxpayers’ money is being used for the campaign.
Signboards on the streets bear the inscription “The prime minister has renounced Jerusalem and abandoned it” – signed, Mayor Barkat and the city council members.
“It is blunt, quite aggressive,” says a source close to the mayor, “but frankly, Barkat felt he didn’t have a choice, facing the total indifference of this government towards the needs of this city and its residents.”
One may ask the simple question: Could it be that Israel has a prime minister who doesn’t know that Jerusalem deserves the best? Well, as strange as that may sound, this is the sad reality.
In Jerusalem has already raised this issue (“They forget thee, O Jerusalem,” Corridors of Power, January 7): A special grant allocated by the government since 2001 to meet exceptional needs has shrunk over the years to a ridiculous sum, which is not even automatically transferred.
Jerusalem residents, represented by the mayor and his staff, are reduced to eternal beggars, who have to wait in shame until someone in the government – more precisely, at the Treasury – casts us a few shekels.
So the mayor has decided to take off his gloves and to act unfriendly. After all, what is he risking? His salary? He doesn’t get one; he works for one shekel a year. Barkat doesn’t seem concerned about his political ties. In the worst case, he can always go back to hi-tech.
There is no evidence that the campaign will succeed. It may and it may not. The bell that Barkat is ringing may wake up some decision-makers, but it may also sound the death knell for his relations with the Prime Minister’s Office. And a few well intentioned people in the city have already started to criticize the campaign, pointing out that Barkat is burning NIS 1m. of public money “to pave the way for his planned run for the office of prime minister” (Zman Yerushalayim).
So far, there are no indications that Barkat is planning to move from his house in Beit Hakerem to the Prime Minister’s Residence. One thing is for sure, though: Barkat is angry, very angry.
He is not a typical politician. When the prime minister expressed his deep commitment to Jerusalem, Barkat naively believed him.
Now he realizes that political language is not always, shall we say, compatible with reality. Thus the NIS 1m. campaign.
In any case, the amount of money expected from the government as a steady grant to the city is NIS 100m. If, in order to obtain this sum, the taxpayers have to spend one million for a campaign, this might not be such a lousy business after all.