Street fight

Due to a last-minute maneuver at the latest meeting, the city council has yet to approve honoring the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Ornan Yekutieli

Ornan Yekutieli and Yeshayahu Leibowitz521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ornan Yekutieli and Yeshayahu Leibowitz521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There is a common belief that in politics, public interest overshadows personal feelings – up to a point. Realpolitik dictates that once you become part of the political system, you must take into consideration that you may have to smile at your worst enemy or support (through your vote) exactly those whom you would rather see fail abysmally. These are the rules of the game, and anyone who can’t cope with them had best not set foot in the hazardous arena. But, that being said, nothing should prevent a politician from taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity for revenge, especially on people he or she had to play nice to.
This is, of course, not just some random thought on morality but is related to an event that occurred at the city council meeting last week. It is worth noting that since the current mayor took office, there have been very few surprises at these meetings. Mayor Nir Barkat is very careful not to leave things open-ended before the meeting starts. He usually does a lot of preparation and closes his deals with the city councillors beforehand, unlike his two predecessors. But surprises do occur, and that is exactly what happened last Thursday.
In Jerusalem has written several times about the efforts made by the Meretz representatives on the city council to have a street named after the late Prof.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz. At Meretz, everyone was aware that this suggestion would stir up a lot of opposition, perhaps even anger and backlash. With or without relevance, the decision was to link that proposal to another one – no less provocative for many of the city council members – to name a street after late city council member and Meretz leader Ornan Yekutieli. Since even in politics surprises can happen, it turned out that the suggestion of Yekutieli, who led some of the harshest struggles against haredi hegemony in the city (especially in regard to closing leisure venues on Shabbat), met with less opposition than naming a street after the observant but controversial Leibowitz.
Once every two years for the past decade, Meretz members and some ad-hoc allies on the city council would raise the issue of commemorating Leibowitz and Yekutieli. The Yekutieli suggestion was finally approved by the street-naming committee, but it took another five years until an appropriate street was located.
Leibowitz was still persona non grata in his own city, though numerous streets have been named after him in other parts of the country. While among the right-wingers it was primarily his strong views and declarations about the territories that earned him so much anger, it was his no less problematic declarations about certain rabbis and religious customs he disliked (the “disco-Kotel” being only one of them) and his repeated sarcastic and injurious remarks about the spiritual leaders of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the late Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, that earned him the adamant opposition of the haredi benches at city hall.
So where is that famous revenge mentioned above? Well, just a few days after it looked like everything was settled and the street-naming committee had approved several new names, which included Yekutieli and Leibowitz, it seemed that the road to redemption was paved for those two. Until former deputy mayor and head of Shas on the city council, Eli Simhayoff, seized the opportunity to wreak revenge on Barkat, who had refused to allow him to attend any city council meetings until his case in the Holyland affair was clarified.
Simhayoff managed to convince his fellow United Torah Judaism members to vote against the proposal, along with the four Shas representatives.
At the start of the meeting, realizing that he was in the minority (for reasons that remain unclear, three of Barkat’s six party members were absent), the mayor decided to withdraw the proposal to avoid a defeat in the vote. According to a municipal spokesman, the proposal will soon be brought back to the city council.
But for time being, Simhayoff is smiling, Meretz chairman Pepe Allalu sounds desperate, and Jerusalem will have to wait once more to see these two men, who each in his own way was highly controversial but dedicated to the city, be commemorated at last. •