In some ways, a vote of no confidence, but a victory nonetheless

It is a great mistake to assume that the thousands of votes for Moshe Lion were only the results of the dark political tricks of the Deri-Liberman duo.

Moshe Lion and Nir Barkat 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Moshe Lion and Nir Barkat 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The drama that took place on Tuesday, ending with the reelection of Mayor Nir Barkat, began almost two years ago.
A group of people – among the closest to Barkat, who were the first to convince him to run for the post – felt betrayed. They believed that while he was still officially representing the issues they cared about, in their opinion he was actually turning his back on their shared ideals; promoting a different agenda.
It is critical to add that some of these people were also motivated by personal reasons. In other words, among the frustrated were some who had expected plum jobs and promotions, and decided to fight Barkat because he didn’t give in to their demands.
That said, it is nevertheless important to keep in mind that there was – and still is – a shared sense of something missing, as if the great hopes for a significant change in the city were not met by the mayor’s agenda.
So what are the fundamental pieces of this drama? Generally speaking, these people felt that Barkat’s promises of what he would do once elected mayor were only partially implemented. As the candidate and representative of the capital’s secular sector, many could not understand his willingness to include haredim in his coalition, and were even less ready to understand that even under a secular mayor, haredim would continue to obtain positive answers to many of their requests. One of the major examples of this huge misunderstanding can be found in Meretz’s slogans for its campaign – stating in several ways that the party’s task, as representatives of the secular, was to put up obstacles to the “haredization” of the city.
This is because many times Barkat failed to clarify that once elected he would be unable to act as if the whole haredi sector was the public enemy of the city. Over the years, the image conveyed was of a man who was elected thanks to secular votes, but once in his position, first catered to ultra- Orthodox interests, forgetting who had voted for him. Getting from there to slogans such as “Barkat has sold the city to the haredim,” the road was not only short, but slippery.
In his decision to change the capital’s image, the campaign – yes, it was definitely a well-planned campaign – to rebrand the city, Barkat changed the focus and course of action that many had in mind when they volunteered and voted for him. The long – and some say exhausting – list of large festivals, the somewhat ostentatious events (such as the marathon, the Formula 1 exhibition race, the Maccabiah) all fit Barkat’s idea of what was good for the city, to make it attractive to a strong and productive population, and also change its image in the media, but they had a price.
In this way, the remote and underprivileged neighborhoods were neglected, almost forgotten. The education system was viewed only through the prism of technological aspects and successes, making room almost exclusively for the successful and leaving behind those whose rhythm and capacities didn’t fit in.
The burning problems of the young generation – affordable housing, decently paid and interesting jobs – which cannot be achieved without a massive investment on the part of the government, were set aside. And let’s not forget the massive failure to create and maintain clean streets.
There are a few explanations for this, but for the average resident, it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – matter. It is inconceivable and unacceptable that people who pay high arnona live on streets that too often look like they belong in the Third World.
And while it is clear that nobody can solve all of the problems within a short time – five years is nothing compared to the unforgivable neglect of Ehud Olmert’s two terms – the frustration and anger are easy to understand.
What is a lot less easy to admit is the fact that Barkat, who is genuinely dedicated to this city, failed to understand that and had a tendency to underestimate the level of anger.
THREE MAJOR figures were among the leaders of the movement who approached Moshe Lion (in addition to his former patrons). Joining the ranks of MKs Avigdor Liberman of Likud Beytenu and Arye Deri of Shas, they were Zvika Chernichovski, former CEO of the Jerusalem Association for Community Councils and Centers, and one of the first supporters of Barkat; Eti Binyamin, former head of the Jerusalem Parents Association, who opposed Barkat mainly on his educational vision and lost her case in court; and his deputy from the United Torah Judaism list, Yitzhak Pindrus.
All had different reasons to oppose Barkat, but at a certain point, they became allies – if not de jure, than at least de facto. In a way, these three persons, who were very different and did not belong to the same sectors – Chernichovski is secular, Binyamin is traditional and Pindrus is haredi – together represent the “forgotten” among the city’s residents. Upon reaching the conclusion that Barkat would not listen to them, they, and the large numbers behind them, decided to look for another candidate who would listen to their needs.
It is also important to note that each of the three had personal reasons for their quest, whether because they became foes of Barkat, like Chernichovski and Binyamin, or because a successful challenge to the mayor would promote them to a better political position, like Pindrus.
The first to take concrete action was Chernichovski. For about a year, he considered all those who might prove to be the decent candidate to fit his aspirations. They included former MK Ze’ev Bielski, ex-Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy, former Hadassah University Medical Center director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, perhaps former MK Dalia Itzik, and more. The choice of Lion was finally made via a constellation of higher political interests (Deri-Liberman), but Chernichovski liked the idea right from the beginning. In order to catch the attention of the target audience he had in mind, Lion could be perfect: Mizrahi, religious, warm and popular, not to mention enjoying the mighty backing of Liberman and Deri. The link with Pindrus was not evident from the beginning – the idea that Ashkenazi haredim would support a non-haredi Mizrahi candidate backed by Deri was more than a little presumptuous. But under particular ad-hoc circumstances, it worked, and a new alliance was born.
But there was more, something that probably didn’t occur to Chernichovski.
Right from the beginning, Lion became a representative for the underdog. Those who never fit into Barkat’s image of the new and improved Jerusalem found a voice in the Mizrahi, self-made man who is not too wealthy (unlike Barkat, despite his modest personal life). Moreover, Lion is connected to Jewish tradition and observance, and has a warm and human personality, and a very direct and simple approach to people. All this turned him into the ideal leader of those who never made millions of dollars in hi-tech, in that he spoke their language – of educational achievements rather than technology. Olim from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, simple people from the remote and not-too-privileged neighborhoods, believed they could trust him, that he could speak for them.
It is therefore a great mistake to assume that the thousands of votes for Lion were only the results of the dark political tricks of the Deri-Liberman duo. They voted for him also and perhaps firstly because they had enough of seeing public funds invested in the fancy parts of the city, while their own neighborhoods remained dirty, lacking playgrounds and lighting. They probably voted for Lion because, as Binyamin explained, “We deserve to be considered even if we are not rich, celebrities or potential donors. These people are tired of feeling they don’t count enough; they wanted to vote for someone who did not treat them with disrespect simply because they are not young, rich and stars of technology.”
A., who voted for him and came to Lion’s Ramada Hotel headquarters in great expectation of a victory, but ended the evening almost in tears, said: “For me, it’s a terrible blow. Nir Barkat never bothered to come to the department at the municipality where I have worked for 30 years, to say hello. He probably never thought I was important enough to make the effort, but Lion made me feel that I am something, that I deserve respect and interest – even if I am not a hi-tech genius.”