They forget thee, O Jerusalem

An end to the ‘Jerusalem Rule,’ which sees a fluctuating budget allocation for the capital each year, is needed in favor of a regular, steady grant.

Jerusalem building 521 (photo credit: ariel jerozolimski)
Jerusalem building 521
(photo credit: ariel jerozolimski)
In his failed campaign for the mayoral elections of 2003, Nir Barkat published a poster depicting himself as the “lonely rider,” which was more than just an allusion to the famous Don Quixote, the lonely rider for justice.
It took some six years, but Barkat finally made his way to the mayor’s office at Kikar Safra, and he still believes he is here to do the right things.
Whether he is actually doing them is a matter for debate, but there is one issue on which he is absolutely right and deserves full support. Barkat believes that Jerusalem deserves special treatment from the government. The current situation – in which the prime minister and, even more so, the finance minister allow themselves to act toward this city as though they were tourists in an oriental bazaar, looking for a bargain on subsidies or a discount on a supporting budget – is unacceptable.
Mayors before Barkat have always tried to change this situation, but Barkat is the first who has had the guts to say loud and clear “enough is enough,” and has for that purpose even decided to hire the renowned consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein to lead a public campaign aimed at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to implement a radical change.
Some poetic irony can be found in the fact that Finkelstein was largely responsible for the strategy that brought Netanyahu to power in 1996.
More specifically, the issue at stake is what is called the “Jerusalem Rule,” by which the government bestows on the city a special sum on the grounds that, as the capital, it has additional needs that cannot be covered by the taxpayers.
According to figures provided by the mayor’s office, in 2000, the sum received from the government was NIS 26 million (13 percent of the city’s annual budget), while for 2010, the sum shrank to NIS 185m. (less than 5% of the city’s budget).
During the past decade, the poverty rate has jumped by 7%. On the other hand, due to impositions by the government (such as an increase in the salaries of municipal workers, higher pension contributions, the closure of the Abu Dis garbage dump and a continuing rise in the number of exemptions in arnona [property tax] payments) there is an additional burden of NIS 155m. on the city’s budget – with no compensation at all from the state.
There is a catch here.
We are not talking about a fixed sum anchored as law, a compulsory budget. Alas, we are talking about an arrangement that reminds us more of a Byzantine court, which every year puts the city and its mayor in the position of beggars at the door, required to ask, even implore, the mighty government, its treasurer and its prime minister to deign to throw them a bone – as though we were not talking about Jerusalem, the city we are required never to forget and to put above our highest joy.
“I wish they could give us the means to live in this city instead of asking us to sacrifice everything for it,” the head of the finance committee at Kikar Safra once told me.
So we have – since 2001 – a special budget allowance for the city. It’s just that we never know how much it is going to be, and even when the secret is published, changes occur and the sum is continually shrinking.
“On the other hand,” says Barkat, “the cost of some government decisions – discounts on arnona for official and foreign representatives [churches for example], large political and public events and many more – is only rising, but the government refuses to refund us. This cannot go on anymore.”
Indeed, Jerusalem is not just another city. All the politicians – Left and Right – know it, and this should translate into a regular, generous, fixed and compulsory special grant, and an end to this shameful situation.
Let us now turn to the recent proposal of the city council’s opposition leader, Pepe Alalu (Meretz). In his search for a candidate to replace Barkat, Alalu called for Amram Mitzna (Labor) to take upon himself the task to “save the city and redeem it.”
We would remind Alalu and his friends that saviors, especially in this city, have always been more famous for their disastrous failures than for their successes.