Fractious factions

What should have been an upbeat city council meeting was again disrupted by the long-standing antipathy between Nir Barkat and Meir Turgeman.

nir barkat and meir turgeman_521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem, Sarah Levin)
nir barkat and meir turgeman_521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem, Sarah Levin)
Last week’s city council meeting was supposed to be a festive and respectable event – the changing of the guard between two members of the Hitorerut B’yerushalayim party. Merav Cohen stepped in to replace Ofer Berkovitch, in accordance with a rotation agreement between them. Cohen, who is getting married in less than two weeks, was particularly emotional, probably because her fiancé and her parents were in attendance, seated on the left-hand benches of City Hall.
Berkovitch, who was also visibly moved, had prepared a rather long speech in which he described his credo, his dedication and his vision for the future of this city, enriched by having been a member of the coalition for two and a half years. And his mother was there, too. An employee of the municipality, she did not even attempt to conceal her maternal pride. The atmosphere was really as close to festive and respectable as Kikar Safra could get.
But alas! Did I say Kikar Safra? Well, it seems that in reality, festive and respectable may be too much to expect. Let’s start with the low attendance of the city council members, as well as those who shamelessly came late (a 40-minute delay for Deputy Mayor Eli Simhayof of Shas, and almost an hour for Yair Gabay of Habayit Hayehudi and Rahel Azaria of Yerushalmim, the former partners of Cohen and Berkovitch’s party). But that’s nothing compared to the absence of certain important members, such as Deputy Mayor David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi), Yakir Segev of the mayor’s party and Shlomo Rosenstein (United Torah Judaism). Besides the fact that it was disrespectful to the two, watching a rotation agreement implemented in the warm and genuinely friendly atmosphere that Berkovitch and Cohen generated would have served as a good example for many of the party representatives. But hey, who said that is the reason they are here at all?
Poor, sweet Berkovitch. He even had to ask his soon-to-be-former colleagues on the city council to keep quiet during his speech – the possibility of just listening respectfully to their friend’s parting speech didn’t seem to occur to them. At the end of the speech, there were lots of hugs and kisses, the mayor presented Cohen and Berkovitch with flowers and, in total contradiction to the rules of City Hall, some applause was permitted.
And then the session opened with the “real” agenda – and then it came. Harsh, rude, embarrassing – and totally useless. The almost routine clash between Mayor Nir Barkat and city council member Meir Turgeman, his most outspoken opponent, reached unprecedented heights – and no one was sure what the origin of the argument was. Turning off the microphones, hurling insults, preventing the session from continuing – it was all there, and it was disgraceful. Then things got even worse. It is not clear whose idea it was, but Barkat requested that the police be called in to remove Turgeman from the hall. The session was held up for more than an hour, during which time two policemen arrived, declared that the issue was beyond their jurisdiction, went back to the police station and sent in two officers, who concluded that it was not the job of the police to prevent a city council member from calling the mayor names (he called him a liar, if you must know).
That was the opportune time for the machers from the two haredi parties to take charge and achieve, after an hour, what could have been obtained without them in 10 minutes – an agreement by the two to bring the incident to an end. Turgeman agreed to apologize for using the term “liar,” Barkat retracted his decision to have him thrown out (at least this time), and the session proceeded in an almost empty hall. So sad. •