It was like a storm cloud waiting to burst. Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch announced Monday that he and his party, Hitorerut, had quit Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition and he announced officially that he is running mayor in the coming elections.
Barkat and Berkovitch haven’t talked to each other for more than a year – antipathy punctuated, from time to time, by sarcastic remarks. It is unclear whether either of the men knew where and why animosity replaced their apparent idyllic partnership – but belligerent they did become. Barkat repeatedly ignored Berkovitch, who struggled to remain relevant.
At his press conference on Monday, Berkovitch declared that a significant change in Barkat’s attitude and positions was the main reason behind his decision to quit the coalition. However, despite the fact that Berkovitch bundled his decision to join the opposition benches together with his candidacy for mayor, these are two different issues and should be considered separately.
Barkat’s relegating Berkovitch to irrelevancy as a deputy mayor reached the point that some of Berkovitch’s achievements as holder of culture portfolio were presented, officially, as the mayor’s achievements. Although it is true that nothing can really advance without mayoral agreement and support, Berkovitch felt pointedly deprived of due credit.
Beyond this, the plan to redistribute education venues between secular and haredi residents in mixed neighborhoods was the last straw that forced Berkovitch to react. It was not the idea to create order in the distribution of these properties that riled him, but the fact that it was done without consulting the other members of the coalition, particularly him. Moreover, he felt that the plan sought to satisfy only the needs of the Lithuanian stream in the haredi sector.
In a recent interview with In Jerusalem, Barkat rejected that allegation, reiterating that he always strives to include his partners in his plans, but political considerations too often block robust coordination. While reality can be subjective, Berkovitch felt marginalized, reduced to a deputy mayor on paper only. He concluded that he had to acknowledge that the elephant in the room – the mayor’s attitude toward him and its consequences – was growing every day. Increasingly strident and unpleasant voices called on him to decide who he wants to serve – the residents or the mayor, hinting darkly that he might be revealing that he is overly influenced by personal interests, such as a nice salary. Unable to ignore the voices any longer, Berkovitch quit the coalition.
However, announcing that he is running for mayor is a totally different thing. With the announcement, Berkovitch has created momentum. No other candidate publicly announced intentions to run, although several have hinted, so in that, he has gained points in the race. The question is, what next? Was it his intention right from the beginning, or is it the result of pressure and the need to respond?
Berkovitch has long declared openly that the mayoral office was his final goal, but always added that it was premature for now. What has changed? The fear of being left behind, or a genuine and profound realization that he is ready for the position? Time will say, but as of this week, the campaign to be the next mayor of Jerusalem is officially on.