A King in Zion?

Israel Land Fund director Arieh King says he is the only candidate Jews and Arabs can trust.

Arieh King 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Arieh King 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While bets on the candidacy of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat vs his challenger, recently relocated resident Moshe Lion, are still unclear, a third candidate has appeared on the scene. Arieh King, director of the Israel Land Fund – an organization funded by American philanthropist Irving Moskowitz, which works to buy properties in east Jerusalem that were owned by Jews before 1948 – has announced that neither Barkat nor Lion could do the job better than him, and entered the race.
King, 40, lives in Ma’aleh Hazayit, a Jewish-secured neighborhood facing the Mount of Olives cemetery. For the past several years, King has been immersed in his efforts to ensure that increasing numbers of old Jewish properties in east Jerusalem are brought back under the control of Jewish residents. For years, he has stated that Barkat, despite his many declarations about the city’s being united under Israeli sovereignty, did not “deliver the goods,” to put it mildly. King has even publicly accused him of being a “dangerous leftist activist” ready to give up Jewish sovereignty over the Old City and its surroundings.
For the past five years, King was on the verge of entering the city council as a representative of the National Union faction (part of Bayit Yehudi), but for internal reasons was prevented from doing so. Now King has decided he is ready to enter the playing field and, as of last week, is officially a candidate for the position of mayor of Jerusalem.
King is adamant that he is the only candidate who can preserve the unity of Jerusalem and, at the same time, command the respect and silent support of Arab residents.
“They just trust me. They believe me when I say that I will defend their rights as residents to obtain clean streets, decent conditions for their children in school and security in their neighborhoods,” he maintains.
King is also against the mayor’s policy that has delayed many demolition orders on illegal Arab construction.
He connects this with the controversy surrounding Beit Yehonatan, a seven-story building owned by Jewish residents in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, which was built without the proper permits.
“We all know the reason [for the delay in demolition of Arab construction] – it is to keep Beit Yehonatan’s last two stories from being demolished as requested by the court. And I say: Demolish those stories. If I am elected, I will do it with my own hands. Who needs that building there? If we say that the same measures should be implemented on both sides, we do not demolish Beit Yehonatan – so we do not demolish illegal Arab construction. I say the opposite: Destroy Beit Yehonatan’s two illegal stories and demolish all the illegal Arab construction. If I am elected, that will be the first thing I’ll do.”
But obviously, what lies at the center of King’s campaign is his concern for Jewish residents of the capital, especially those living in outlying neighborhoods such as French Hill, Gilo and East Talpiot, which comprise the constituencies of his city council list. On that list, at least for the moment, there are no women, and King thinks that something should be done to correct that. However, he adds that for the moment, he hasn’t found a suitable female candidate.
King also criticizes Barkat’s policies with regard to Jerusalem’s cultural life.
“In a city where 40 percent of the Jewish population are haredim and 36% of the general population are Arabs – meaning two large sectors that do not attend the city’s cultural events and festivals – we are left with a small part, including impoverished residents who cannot afford them, anyway. So on whom are we spending so much money? Who really needs the arena, the Wine Festival, the Beer Festival or the Formula 1 event? The people of Jerusalem need education, clean streets and affordable housing, not entertainment,” he asserts.
Asked about his chances of victory over an incumbent mayor and a challenger backed by a large political movement (former foreign minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman supports Lion), King doesn’t seem particularly concerned and contends that he is connected to the people, knows the situation and gets very encouraging feedback.
However, King is apparently also a realistic person.
He says that if he doesn’t succeed in becoming the next mayor, he would consider joining a coalition under Lion rather than Barkat.