Corridors of Power: Democracy, Safra Square style

Is the feud between Mayor Nir Barkat and opposition leader Meir Turgeman interfering with the running of the city?

Jerusalem (photo credit: Wikicommons)
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Democracy, it is commonly believed, is the best system of government, though far from ideal.
Basically, it is a system that enables minorities to preserve their rights while allowing the majority to implement its decisions. There is obviously much more to it, but that should be sufficient to introduce what happened at the last city council meeting.
It is no secret that there is bad blood between Mayor Nir Barkat and city council member and opposition leader Meir Turgeman. The two, who were once close friends (about a decade ago) and shared a vision for a better life for Jerusalem’s residents, have become bitter enemies. There has hardly been a city council meeting where the two didn’t launch into a heated discussion, opposing not only each other’s positions on almost every item on the agenda but also diametrically opposed in their mode of expression.
Barkat usually maintains his composure, though it is obvious that he is often on the verge of exploding with rage, while Turgeman loses complete control of his reactions, yells and screams at the mayor and often uses, shall we say, undiplomatic language to express his opinions. The Turgeman-Barkat circus, as it has been called in the corridors of city hall, has become an almost regular feature of city council meetings, and no one pays too much attention to it anymore.
Not that it is a trivial thing. Those angry outbursts have already taken a toll on Turgeman’s health. He was hospitalized a few months ago, fearing a heart condition (he’s fine now.) But no less important, these repeated tirades over the past three years have not helped the opposition’s projects or interests make any headway.
But Turgeman rejects this assessment, saying that the best evidence in support of his struggle is the fact that a large group of residents is now looking for an alternative to Barkat’s candidacy in the 2013 elections.
Perhaps. But for many high-ranking officials at the municipality, who cannot for obvious reasons express their criticism of the coalition or the opposition members, these conflicts do not serve the interests of the city or its residents. On the contrary. And what happened last week patently depicts the situation they deplore.
The city council meeting started off as usual, with the mayor answering a series of questions submitted by the members of the opposition, which at present consists of only two members – Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim) and Turgeman (For Jerusalem).
Democracy requires strict attention and respect toward the representatives of the minorities, who should not be disregarded under any circumstances.
During Ehud Olmert’s days as mayor, the seven members of the opposition succeeded in making his life miserable, thanks to this privilege. Barkat has a much easier situation, with only two opposition members.
At last week’s meeting, Turgeman was dissatisfied with one of Barkat’s answers. What could have been a simple request for additional information turned into a violent and even offensive argument, which ended with intervention by the police. Not the best outcome of the democratic process. In fact, the police intervened twice. The first time, they couldn’t take any action because Turgeman is an elected official and using undiplomatic language is not a felony, so the two police officers left without doing anything.
But Barkat did not back down. After consulting some of his closest assistants, he submitted a complaint to the police, contending that Turgeman had prevented him from conducting the city council meeting by refusing to leave the room as he had ordered him to do. This time, the police had grounds to remove the unruly councillor from the premises (and released him after a brief interrogation).
So what are we left with? The debate continued without further disruption, and that is certainly in the interests of the residents. But the question remains: Was that really the best way to implement democracy in the city? Or perhaps there is an answer, as expressed by one of the officials at the meeting. He concluded that there should be a more democratic way to maintain order at city hall.