Holy, holy, holy

Barkat is absolutely right in his adamant request to obtain larger budgets for the city’s needs.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Over the ages, despite recent changes with regard to holiness issues and symbols, sites of religious worship and houses of prayer have become the beacons for the idea of a sacred area, something that is reserved, holy and not to be touched or used by anyone who is not allowed to.
Three major monotheistic religions are represented and deeply rooted in Jerusalem, and last week an unprecedented event occurred – one that caused lots of damage to the image of the State of Israel. It did not occur because of tension or hatred between these faiths, but because they were an easy target to which to export the ongoing street battles between Mayor Nir Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
After a failed attempt to paralyze the city through a sudden strike of the municipality, an act of vandalism perpetrated by the municipality’s employees, ruled by Barkat (the dumping of garbage at the entrance to the Treasury), Barkat has almost run out of ammunition with which to continue the struggle he has waged on Kahlon.
One thing must be said at this point: Barkat is absolutely right in his adamant request to obtain larger budgets for the city’s needs. That Kahlon refuses to approve these budgets – that under his influence high-ranking officials at the Treasury too often allow themselves to spurn the city’s elected officials and stick to their boss, as they refuse to even talk to the accountants at Safra Square – is a scandal on a national level.
When it comes to fulfilling the promises made in flamboyant speeches about the eternity of Jerusalem as our beloved capital and our national pledge to its status, suddenly all the pockets are closed and sealed.
Why urge the nations to move their embassies to Jerusalem, if the city cannot provide elementary levels of municipal services, for lack of budgets? This is not even cynicism, it is simply outrageous.
THAT SAID, what did Barkat have in mind when he sent municipality employees to sequester the churches’ bank accounts and force them to pay city taxes (arnona), while he probably knew that this sensitive matter has been debated for 25 years between Israel and the Vatican? What exactly did he expect? An international scandal that would – one wonders how – force Kahlon to agree to open his purse? Whatever Barkat – or whoever suggested this psycho idea, which probably arose from a disturbed mind – expected to obtain, it boomeranged. The reaction of the churches was swift, sharp and painful. For the first time in centuries, the Holy Sepulchre, the most important religious site for Christians in the world, was closed, accompanied by signs accusing Israel of “persecution of the churches in the holy land.” The scandal was immediate and international, featured in all the world’s media.
Barkat should be thankful to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, despite being occupied with his own legal issues, realized immediately this matter’s potential for damage, and rapidly found a diplomatic solution that enabled the reopening of the church less than 48 hours later.
But damage did occur. During those two days, hundreds of pilgrims – some of whom saved penny by penny to make the journey of their life – arrived to Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty to find the holiest church closed. For them, it is already too late, and the next time an official Israeli representative boasts somewhere in the world about the freedom of religion that the State of Israel has provided, some in the audience may make embarrassing remarks.
Two things brought Barkat to such a point. The first is that he feels ready to leave Safra Square and move on to the national level as a member of the Likud, to the government, where, so say a few sources, Netanyahu would be happy to have near him a clean politician, someone who is known to be loyal – traits that too many party dignitaries cannot provide. But due to the police investigations, it is not clear where Netanyahu will be in the coming months.
The second issue is even more sensitive. Barkat knows that, at a certain point, as he makes his way to the upper political echelons, he will have to face Kahlon. Kahlon also knows this. Hence, the tension between the two reaches, too often, unreasonable heights.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem and Jerusalemites continue to foot the bill.