Corridors of Power: Revenge is bitter

Deputy Mayor Eli Simhayof was surprised to learn that a friendly relationship with Mayor Nir Barkat did not protect him after his indictment for his alleged involvement in the Holyland affair.

Holyland still on hold 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Holyland still on hold 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
There is a common myth that politicians are cynical, not spontaneous and are always prepared for the worst. The myth also holds that in politics one can find allies at most, but never friendship. Well, myths perhaps make our lives more colorful but they are often simply erroneous.
This was borne out last week at Safra Square when an experienced politician, Eli Simhayof (Shas), was surprised to learn that (1) Mayor Nir Barkat was adamant to fire him from all his duties and stop his salary following his being indicted in the Holyland affair and (2) that Barkat was not as close a friend as Simhayof had thought.
By now Simhayof, and perhaps some of the city council members, have been reminded that indeed there is no such thing as friendship in politics.
Less than a year ago, Simhayof was certain that the difficult days were behind him. After long and exhausting negotiations, his party finally obtained a salaried deputy mayor as a member of the coalition, just a few weeks after his colleague and former head of the party, Shlomi Attias, resigned from the city council, paving the way for Simhayof to enjoy the honorable position and a generous salary (about NIS 36,000). At the time, Simhayof knew there was a little cloud over his head regarding his involvement in the Holyland affair, but he was sure he wouldn’t be indicted and was certain that his amicable personal relationship with Barkat would spare him any embarrassing situation, such as being asked to resign.
Well, Simhayof was wrong on both counts. Not only did the police and court investigation end with his being indicted for his part in the city’s biggest corruption scandal, but Barkat forced him to resign.
Last week Simhayof, unable to conceal his anger, told this reporter how the mayor’s request that he immediately resign took him by surprise. But he admitted that the most painful part was the lack of any personal touch.
“I thought we were friends,” he said, a bit naively. “He didn’t even call me into his office to discuss the matter – I was asked to resign by e-mail! Is that the way to treat a friend and a deputy mayor?” A rare moment of poetic justice occurred when Simhayof, half speaking for himself, admitted that he should have known by the way that Rachel Azaria was fired two months ago that no one was safe.
So Simhayof had to resign. But for the sake of his pride at least, he refused to be stripped of his title, even if it meant giving up his salary, arguing that it was the city council plenum’s decision to make. “It was a small but tasty revenge,” said Simhayof.
Last Thursday, Barkat didn’t even put the issue on the agenda of the city council’s monthly meeting, as he knew that he wouldn’t have a majority because Simhayof had managed to gather a large number of supporters.
Barkat has the authority to strip a city council member of his portfolios and salary, but not to remove his or her title or eject him or her from the council.
However the trial turns out for Simhayof (and that will take time), there is no question that this development came at the worst time for Shas. What Simhayof left behind him (including the salary) looks like a typical battle over inheritance among siblings, although as a source in his party said, “A sibling relationship is the last image one could use to describe the harsh and defiant relationship of Shas on the city council.”
But there’s more. Typically, Simhayof recovered quickly after the initial shock (he is a trained politician, after all) and launched what he calls “the beginning of the end of Barkat’s days on the city council.”
What did he mean by that? Simhayof says that first of all, he will personally see to it that for the rest of the mayor’s term on the council, Barkat’s life will be miserable. But more importantly, from now on Simhayof will be leading the camp that is actively seeking a candidate to challenge Barkat in the 2014 mayoral elections.
“We already have names, and none of them are haredi – we already learned that lesson [with former Uri Lupolianski],” he explains. “But they are very good people, and I swore to myself that Barkat will not be the next mayor if that is the last thing I do in local politics.”
Stay tuned. There will be more.