Give me the power

An interview with candidate Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut)

POSTER details Ofer Berkovitch’s promise to make ‘olim’ part of the equation (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
POSTER details Ofer Berkovitch’s promise to make ‘olim’ part of the equation
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
On Tuesday morning, candidate Ofer Berkovitch allowed himself to smile. The first independent poll confirmed what he keeps saying to his supporters and to those still hesitating. His chance of winning this election are quite fair, ”although” he adds immediately, “There is still a lot of work to do. Nothing is final.”
At 8:30 a.m. on the terrace of Nocturno, a well-known culinary and cultural institution in city center near his home in Nahlaot, Berkovitch says he hasn’t yet had time for a coffee and a sandwich and orders both. The first issue he addresses is the possibility of a haredi mayor – if Yossi Daitch runs and obtains the majority of the votes.
Berkovitch says, “I want to say first that there are quite a few haredi representatives with whom I feel I can work for the benefit of all the residents of this city, and they are certainly dedicated to the needs of the community. The problem with haredi representatives, and that includes Daitch, is that at the end of the day they are sectorial. He will come and take care first and only for his sector. I’ve seen that throughout the past few years. This is inherent to his haredi perception. It prevents him (or any other haredi candidate) from seeing and including the needs of the whole population in Jerusalem. That is what he did every time he had to decide how he would vote on issues of Shabbat, including events that respected the holy day. His vote against the First Station, for example. He belongs to his haredi community. It doesn’t work with the large multicultural spectrum of the city’s residents. He can’t be the mayor of a non-haredi city.
What would be the result of the election of a haredi mayor in your eyes?
The secular voters in the city have to understand that this is a critical election. The possibility that a haredi candidate could be elected is high. In my eyes there is only one conclusion: the Zionist sector, religious, secular and traditionalists, have to wake up and unite. This a struggle for our home. People like Yossi Havilio and Rachel Azaria have to understand that there is no more time for candidates who poll so low. This is the time for unity.
I am ready to open negotiations with both of them right now, but if they don’t understand the urgency of the situation, my guess is that their voters will do it for them. If these voters, representing more than 10% of the total, come to my side, we will not even need a second round.
What else is required in your opinion?
We also need a high voter turnout. We all know that seculars often complain, but not enough of them care enough to go and vote. We have to do everything possible to significantly raise the vote among the pluralist population. Some people say that all politicians are corrupt or incompetent – there is no such a thing as ideal situation in a democracy – but every resident is responsible, and all have to vote. 
What if they don’t feel it will work?
I insist on this point; it’s everybody’s responsibility. Even if they think that Ofer Berkovitch won’t deliver all the goods, they should make the right choice.
Don’t you fear that this emphasis on the urgency of getting out to vote may also create the impression that there is an emergency here?
Maybe some people will get worried and decide to leave because they will feel they become part of a struggle? People don’t want to see that a simple civic act is transformed into a participation in a war.
Voting is a basic act of citizenship. The leader’s responsibility is to provide good reasons for residents to vote. I can understand this distress, but I wouldn’t describe the situation as war on the streets. We all live here – haredim, religious, secular and traditionalist, Jews and Arabs. We don’t plan to throw anyone out. We try to foster full mutual respect for each other’s beliefs and culture, but we need to work hard to provide plans and projects so that life here becomes better for all of us – and certainly including the general sector from which I come.
How can we do that?
There are many aspects to this – business, development, finance, small businesses, tourism – the development of the new quarter at the city entrance, cultural life, more institutions for arts and culture, the entertainment compounds, Mahaneh Yehuda, the First Station and more. But there are also issues that have not been handled properly and this is where I will devote extra attention. Improving the quality of life in this city, for example, sanitation and cleaning the streets – it is crucial that we solve this problem. Mayor Nir Barkat didn’t care enough about certain things, but I plan to invest special effort there.
All mayors have tried to improve that. What makes you think you will do better?
I plan to go back to the days of Teddy Kollek – at 6:30 every morning to be in another neighborhood, to follow the garbage trucks every morning, see that cleaners really clean, to enlarge the relevant budgets where necessary, to fine those who litter and pollute. I will launch a comprehensive educational project in schools, youth movements and community centers to change the attitude of the residents toward cleanliness. This will ultimately create a better atmosphere.
This is not war; this doing good for ourselves. If I succeed as mayor of Jerusalem to lead the pluralist residents of Jerusalem to implement their democratic rights, that will enable us to make this city a better place to live in. 
Will it work? How will you make it work?
I can understand people who feel threatened and feel uncomfortable here, following the irresponsible and repeated attacks by the haredi leadership on Mahaneh Yehuda entertainment places, or the First Station and other aspects of night entertainment and life. But this is wrong. I know that this is absolutely not the way young haredim think.
I meet young haredim who work, who study – they don’t want to threaten anybody here and they don’t feel this leadership speaks for them. I’ve heard them say openly that they don’t mind young seculars going to enjoy themselves, have fun, spend time out... They want to obtain what they need, but they do not seek anything from others. They speak differently. These are the people I want to reach and help them find their place among all of us.
Do you have plans to include some of these people you just described, better known as the “new haredim”?
Absolutely. Yes. I see this sector, the young working haredim, as part of us, of the State of Israel, not only of Jerusalem. We all know that whatever happens in Jerusalem will occur sooner or later in the rest of the country. I plan to invest a lot in this sector, yes. In education, for example, with this relatively new haredi-public stream where they study the full curriculum. It is happening here, in this city, and growing. Also in haredi culture, for example with haredi women involved in artistic creativity. I have been involved in all these plans and activities for a while and will of course develop more and continue with this as mayor.
In order to promote it, I have created a haredi headquarters. Haredim from all the streams – Ashkenazi and Sephardi, all working and studying young haredim – and I will have a representative of this stream at a realistic place in my list. We will reveal the entire list just before Rosh Hashanah.
To reach your goal, you have to compete not only with the major other candidates, but also to convince those who are roughly on your side and addressing the same public to gather around you. How will you do that? Will they accept your leadership? Why would they?
My understanding is that Yossi Havilio will quit the race at some point and join me. The question is when. He, as well as the other candidates, will have to admit, especially after the poll published this week, that continuing with such low support is harming our chance to prevent a haredi mayor or a candidate who is not really from us and from here.
I will give you an example: Havilio speaks out a lot about the rights of the LGBT community, but by continuing to nibble at my chances, he is in fact harming them, because we might end up with a haredi mayor. Is that what we want to happen? If that happens, the public will not understand and ultimately, it will harm him first.
I believe he will be responsible enough to quit on time.
What else?
I have accepted Havilio’s proposal to have a poll between the three of us [Berkovitch, Havilio and Azaria] and act according to its findings. I said yes, but he hasn’t responded to me yet. Rachel Azaria hasn’t replied so far at all, but I am sure that at a certain point, the voters will understand what is at stake and they will independently move to support me.
Will you offer positions if one of them or both quit and join you?”
Yes, there will be negotiations to reach agreements, absolutely.
Finally, who will be in your coalition if you are elected? Will you also invite haredi representatives?
It is wrong to disqualify anybody. I am open to any partnership with anyone who embraces our agenda.