Courting candidates

A year before the next municipal election campaign, is Mayor Nir Barkat lacking a political home?

Netanyahu, Barkat 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Netanyahu, Barkat 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With such friends, goes the popular saying, who needs enemies? We all know the sour feeling that comes over us when we realize that friends might someday surprise us and act more like foes. Mayor Nir Barkat may have had that feeling recently when representatives of his political circles hurried to reject him as their potential candidate for the next municipal election.
Barkat holds liberal positions on economics and rightwing opinions in the political field. He has never been a member of the Likud, but he was and still is very close to its political views, as well as to some of its high-ranking members. A member of Kadima for a short while, he slammed the door on it when he discovered Haim Ramon’s plan to divide Jerusalem in 2007 – a plan he rejected harshly.
However, Barkat has never been presented as the official candidate of either of these parties, something that divides local observers into two camps: those who believe that his political ambiguity helped him obtain the votes of residents who hold far from right-wing opinions, and those who are certain that by not being a truly open candidate of the Right, he lost many votes.
That was more than three and a half years ago; the attention is now focused on the coming election, scheduled for November 2013.
So far, there is no indication that Barkat is going to change his strategy and run as a Likud or Kadima candidate rather than as an independent one. Nevertheless, he certainly assumes that residents of Jerusalem who identify with his political views should be his strongest supporters. In that regard, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s latest statement – that the Likud should not seek a candidate for Jerusalem mayor since Barkat is the perfect candidate to represent the party’s positions – couldn’t come at a better time. Barkat’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) partners in the coalition do not even try to hide their efforts to find someone better suited to their needs, but with the young Labor activists murmuring their wish to convince the party’s leadership to find a serious candidate, and the steady cloud of a potential Arye Deri candidacy that would sweep up all the voters, Rivlin’s statement should have been reassuring.
But alas, sometimes friends possess the capacity to act as our worst enemies. Not only has Rivlin’s declaration not proven effective on Likud members in the city, it seems that it has attracted quite a lot of critics – due, among other things, to the fact that his personal friendship with the mayor is public knowledge.
“It’s fine with me that they are close friends,” says city council member and declared enemy of Barkat Meir Turgeman, who is a leader of the local Likud Party branch. Turgeman obtained more votes than Barkat’s deputy and Likud member Kobi Kahlon at the local elections for the branch’s leadership in January. In his own eyes, he would be the most natural Likud candidate for Jerusalem mayor. As such, Turgeman sees Rivlin’s efforts to present Barkat as the Likud candidate as “unacceptable interference with the Likud’s affairs, in which Rivlin, as Knesset Speaker, should not be involved anyway.”
Asked why Barkat, with his right-wing positions, is not the right candidate to represent the Likud, Turgeman answers candidly: “Since when is the Likud a right-wing party? That’s politics, but on social issues we are committed to the underprivileged, to the needy, to those who are forgotten and hurt by the liberal capitalist vision of the mayor.”
So here we are, about a year before the campaign for the next mayoral and city council elections, with a liberal right-wing mayor who – apparently – is not going to obtain the support of the right-wing voters and whose haredi partners in the coalition openly say they are looking for someone else, and an unclear situation regarding whether the other lists forming the coalition will be able to run again – a perfect illustration of what it means to have friends who leave you without the need for enemies.