Corridors of Power: Harsh sentence?

When the former mayor was sentenced to six years in jail, it elicited sympathy from sources as diverse as fellow haredim and secular and left-wing leaders.

Uri Lupolianski in court (photo credit: DROR EINAV/WALLA)
Uri Lupolianski in court
(photo credit: DROR EINAV/WALLA)
Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski was sentenced to six years in jail earlier this week in the Holyland corruption affair. However, unlike in the case of his predecessor Ehud Olmert, whose own six-year jail sentence has received strong public approbation, Lupolianski’s fate has elicited a great deal of sympathy from sources as diverse as his fellow haredim and leaders of secular and left-wing parties. Even now, six years after leaving the mayor’s office at Safra Square, Lupolianski is still widely liked among the public, and the reaction to his heavy verdict has largely been shock and regret.
Generally, his illness is the first reason cited by those who feel his fate is unduly harsh.
Indeed, the former – and so far only – haredi mayor of the city has faced his share of adversity. His grandson died during a medical procedure, he lost his nomination for a second mayoral term to his rival Meir Porush, and he has struggled with cancer for the last four years.
“But,” says city council opposition leader Pepe Allalu (Meretz), “many people, including myself, believe that Lupolianski is paying for more than his own felony, as if there were a hint here that what society needs now is a total cleaning of the Augean Stables, nothing less.”
Allalu adds that with the Holyland affair came a general and urgent need to repair what the administration’s inefficiency – and the resultant bureaucracy – had done to public services.
“From the court to the press, it became clear that local and regional councils had turned into nests of corruption, that something fundamental, fearless, had to be done before the public trust was totally lost and public administrations [descended into] chaos,” he says.
Shlomi Attias, currently general director of the company for the reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, was Lupolianski’s deputy mayor as head of the Shas list on the city council. Today, far away from political involvement, Attias speaks freely and says that the verdict caused a general shock in the haredi community, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi.
“I cannot understand this verdict,” he says. “To put Lupolianski and Olmert on the same level is inconceivable. No doubt Justice [David] Rozen [who issued the sentences] wanted to make a point here, and Lupolianski is paying not only for what he has done, but for all the corruption affairs that weren’t prevented.”
Whether Allalu and Attias are right – that the point was to send a clear message to all politicians that a fundamental change had come – or whether Rozen was simply ruling that corruption was corruption, no matter what the money’s ultimate use was (Lupolianski was accused of taking money not for his own benefit, but for the Yad Sarah charity association he created and heads), it seems that in the corridors of Safra Square, the message has had the desired effect. City council members say that officials, particularly in the construction permits administration, have become much more cautious and aware of their work.
“This is not always for the better,” says one of the officials, since “sometimes it only adds to the already heavy bureaucracy and makes the attempts to get rid of the machers (facilitators) ineffective.”
But according to Allalu, “there is no other way than to ensure transparency, all the time, everywhere” – and not just regarding construction permits and planning. This week, Allalu won a transparency case against Mayor Nir Barkat, obtaining a district ruling from Justice David Mintz that the mayor must issue a full list of the donors he has approached.
“There is no fear that Mayor Barkat is suspected of bribery or corruption, of course, but the residents have the right to know who are the people giving money through him to Jerusalem, because some of them may have a political agenda,” explains Allalu.
Attias also believes that things are changing.
“People are much more aware and much more careful,” he says. “The idea that such powerful people as Olmert and Lupolianski are going to jail makes a difference.”
For Allalu, it is clear that change had to come on the wings of harsh punishment.
“Of course, one cannot ignore the differences between Lupolianski and Olmert, at all levels,” he says, “but I believe that there was no other way to convey a strict message to the public and the elected representatives: There is no room for corruption, no room for cutting corners with a wink and a nod – no more.”