Corridor of power: Perhaps a hunger strike?

Upon taking the helm, Mayor Nir Barkat was convinced that his hi-tech style of work and personal honesty would open all the doors for him.

Mayor Nir Barkat (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Mayor Nir Barkat
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In French, “déjà vu” means “already seen.” Earlier this week in Jerusalem, “déjà stink” might have been a more apt term to describe the third round of the Barkat-Kahlon war.
Some 900,000 residents were unwitting victims of an ongoing struggle between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Mayor Nir Barkat. For the third year running, the approval of Jerusalem’s budget generated chaos, anger and dirt – making the capital’s appearance embarrassing and repulsive.
Confrontation between the city’s mayor and the Treasury did not originate with Kahlon and Barkat; even legendary mayor Teddy Kollek (whose 11th yahrzeit was earlier this week) had to do noble battle against the government for Jerusalem. Kollek moved his office to the entrance of the Knesset to underscore how unaccommodating the government was toward the city by whose name the politicians swore devotion. Kollek’s successor, Ehud Olmert, had to organize repeated demonstrations in order to get a more shekels for the city – even during the Second Intifada.
Then came Barkat, armed with vision (Jerusalem Will Succeed) and convinced that his hi-tech style (work hard, invest and move forward) and personal honesty (he doesn’t take a salary, uses his own car, pays for all his visits abroad to represent Jerusalem) would open doors for him. But his vision confronted the reality of cynical politics; his plans failed time and again in the face of the refusal of the Treasury and Kahlon to give to Jerusalem the money the city needs.
At his press conference last week, Barkat said that his coalition members and deputy mayors supported his steps (firing 2,150 employees, scattering garbage across the city and so on). But support was an issue. Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe, a member of Bayit Yehudi, and president of the finance committee at Safra Square, didn’t manage to involve her party chairman, Naftali Bennett. None of Barkat’s haredi allies bothered to release a supportive declaration, while off the record, their criticism was biting. Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who just a month ago announced that he would never allow things to reach the damage level of last year, failed to leverage his personal influence as a member of the powerful Jerusalem branch of the Likud and instead disappeared when the first garbage bin overflowed. As for Ofer Berkovitch, he attacked Barkat, forgetting that just one year ago, while still deputy mayor, he supported Barkat in virtually the same situation.
The need for someone to provide a ladder to enable Barkat to climb down was met by Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn, together with discreet support from Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. The strike ended and the garbage was removed. Six full hours were required to clean Agrippas Street, which had to be closed for a few hours, causing additional tie-ups in an already congested city. As for the 2,150 families of dismissed employees of Safra Square, they spent a gloomy Shabbat after they received their dismissal letters. Barkat, who tried to fight against the dismissal of 1,750 Teva employees as a blow to Jerusalem and its economy, didn’t flinch when he fired even more of his own employees as part of the war against Kahlon.
The real problem will not be truly resolved, however, until the government (like those that preceded it) realizes that Jerusalem, with its 900,000+ residents, its complexity, its relatively low socioeconomic level, its delicate political situation and its international status – deserves the largest budgets, the most attention and the best goodwill of all authorities.
It may be that the crux of the problem can be discerned in a remark reportedly uttered by a high-ranking Treasury official at the end of a meeting with top municipal officials: “We are fed up with Jerusalem and your problems.” So here is a suggestion for the mayor: next time, try a hunger strike. It will probably gain significant support from the residents, who are fed up with dirty streets and neglect.