The BIG bazaar

Mayor Nir Barkat looks set to have a coalition in place before the November 21 inauguration.

Nir Barkat celebrates election victory 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nir Barkat celebrates election victory 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The city council elected on October 22 is already installed at Safra Square, but the official inauguration and presentation to the residents will take place on November 21. Although it is not required by law, clearly Mayor Nir Barkat wants to have his coalition set up before that day arrives.
Now, almost four weeks after the elections, the coalition is far from complete, although some agreements have been made.
Due to the fact that Jerusalem is the largest city in the country, the Interior Ministry has allowed the council to name eight deputy mayors, a decision originally made by then minister Eli Yishai in order to enable two more deputy mayors from the benches identified with his party, Shas. Yishai took into account sectarian interests in his decision, but with 30 seats on the council (31, including the mayor’s), it is not unreasonable to have more deputy mayors than in a city of 200,000 residents (compared to the 824,000 of Jerusalem, not to mention the complexity of the city’s affairs as a capital).
Usually, the criterion for appointing a deputy mayor is based on the number of seats obtained by each party. A party with four seats will – or is expected to – have fewer privileges than a party represented by eight councilors.
Well, that was the case until the last council.
Following some unusual circumstances that resulted from the elections, the assignment of the position of deputy mayor is now based on a totally different concept. The first to launch one of these new regulations was Haim Epstein, the representative of the radical Bnei Torah party that split from the Agudat Yisrael faction (United Torah Judaism), refusing to comply with the Aguda’s decision to support mayoral candidate Moshe Lion. Epstein was the first elected city council member to be named deputy mayor, even though his party has only one seat. The man who ran as a third candidate for mayor played a significant role in the race between Barkat and Lion, so it is not surprising that he was the first to be compensated.
Yael Antebi, the sole representative for her neighborhood, Pisgat Ze’ev, initiated another new formula. She was appointed deputy mayor for only half a tenure – meaning that after two and a half years she will have to give up her position to someone else, an unprecedented scenario at Safra Square.
But that is not the strangest thing. The representative of Likud Beytenu (headed by Lion, who disappeared from Jerusalem less than 24 hours after his defeat) has not yet been chosen, but most bets are on Vladimir Sklar, former head of the sports administration at the municipality and No. 3 on the list.
Shas has another kind of problem. The leader of the party, Eli Simhayof, who is on trial for his involvement in the Holyland affair, is still persona non grata in Barkat’s eyes. And in any case, since he is a suspect in the affair, he cannot be appointed deputy mayor. So the party will be represented by another member. But whoever it will be, he will have to wait until mid-2016 to become deputy mayor (after Antebi).
There is a similar situation with the UTJ party. Despite the party’s eight seats, its leader, Yitzhak Pindrus, will have to resign as head of the party. Barkat has made it clear that Pindrus, who was his most outspoken opponent and worked very hard to replace him with Lion, will not step into one of the deputy mayor’s offices on the sixth floor of city hall. And in any case, even if it is invited to join the coalition – which is doubtful at the moment – United Torah Judaism will not have a deputy mayor this term.
As for the two parties representing the national religious movements – Bayit Yehudi and United Jerusalem – it is not clear what will happen.
Dov Kalmanovitch (Bayit Yehudi) is in the coalition but without being deputy mayor. As for Shmuel Shkedi, he was given the prestigious finance portfolio without the title of deputy mayor. But Shkedi, who had a stroke last week, is not likely to be able to fulfill the mission, despite a significant improvement in his condition. After him is Arieh King, the man who led the purchasing of houses that once belonged to Jews in east Jerusalem and brings in Jewish families to replace the Arabs who have lived there for years. King has incurred such an opposition that the three elected non-religious parties have launched a petition calling on Barkat not to include him in his coalition – so far without great success.
But the most interesting part is taking place in the rows of the three parties that call themselves the “pluralist option” – Meretz- Labor, Yerushalmim and Hitorerut B’yerushalyim. Their first step was to sign an agreement that none of them would enter the coalition without the other two – a noble decision that lasted about a week. It ended on Saturday night (November 9) at Barkat’s house, where Hitorerut leader Ofer Berkovitch was invited and agreed to join in the coalition, without the finance portfolio that he requested.
On Tuesday night, Hitorerut signed a coalition agreement that included a deputy mayoralty for Berkovitch and a collection of portfolios for the party: economic and vocational development; young people and families; small-business promotion; culture; and youth. On the same evening, the Yerushalmim party signed an agreement making Rachel Azaria a deputy mayor and deputy holder of the education portfolio and chair of the council for the status of women. Now (as of press time) Meretz is back in its almost traditional position – in the opposition.