Lost in the gallery

Barkat is under increasing pressure from different parts of his coalition who pull him simultaneously to the Left and Right.

Jerusalem councilman Arieh King (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Jerusalem councilman Arieh King
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
In one of his most famous poems, one of Jerusalem’s most loved poets, Yehuda Amichai, wrote, “It is hard to be the mayor of Jerusalem.” Considering what is at stake for a mayor – any mayor – in this unique city, Amichai’s verse sounds more like a prophecy than a simple poem.
With the city’s budget issue behind him and the opening of the tourist and pilgrim season with Passover, Easter and the summer and its trail of festivals ahead, one would assume that the mayor and his staff would be deeply invested in these issues, ensuring that Jerusalem’s streets will be as calm as possible as we welcome record numbers of visitors.
This may be the situation, but as in old fables, there is a small but nasty thorn still making itself felt and disturbing the harmony. The Barbur Gallery, an institution that has stirred a lot of commotion lately, is still alive and kicking, offering a series of events tainted with left-wing positions in the face of declarations by Mayor Nir Barkat that the place should be shut down.
Asked for the official position of the municipality toward the ongoing activities of the gallery, a spokesman for the municipality declared that “nothing has changed and the gallery will be shut down at the end of the 90 days given, meaning on May 10.” Barkat based his decision on the advice of the city’s legal adviser, Amnon Merhav, who ruled that the facility, which is owned by the municipality, should be dedicated for the use of the community in the neighborhood. The implication is that the present activities in the gallery and the garden surrounding it are not beneficial to the community.
Despite the municipality’s declaration of intent, the gallery management and the Bar Kayma Foundation, the association that operates it, seem to have no plans whatsoever to close the venue, halt or change the nature of the activities that take place there. Sources at Bar Kayma refuse even to concede that the city’s legal adviser has the prerogative to tell them what to do or not – let alone the mayor, who is a political figure and thus, in their opinion, doesn’t really represent the residents.
As if this were not enough to raise the blood pressure of some of the representatives at city council, the activities scheduled by the gallery include a heavy dose of encounters and lectures given by and focusing on the work done by Breaking the Silence, the largely foreign-funded NGO whose activities include promoting war-crimes charges against Israel based on anonymous and unverifiable testimonies. This is the group that aroused the opposition to the gallery’s activities in the first place, leading to the mayor’s decision to take action.
A veteran local left-wing activist who asked not to be identified said earlier this week, “This is not a mistake in the gallery’s strategy. The time is ripe to raise the basic issue of who owns the public space in this city. Should content be decided by the establishment – the mayor and his coalition members – or by the people, who maybe want to hear something else?”
In other words, the Barbur people are seeking to provoke an open confrontation with the establishment and with their political opponents.
The matter is reaching boiling point. Barkat’s political rivals, such as city council member Arieh King (United Jerusalem), keep raising this issue in the public discourse – in the social media and at city council meetings. King says he will pursue the matter until control of the gallery is given back to the residents and the extreme left-wing political activities that many find offensive are halted.
King has resigned from the mayor’s coalition (indirectly encouraged to do so by Barkat), while the president of his list, Hagit Moshe, split from him and has been nominated as deputy mayor and president of the powerful and prestigious finance committee at city council.
For the moment, King is almost alone in this struggle; only Dov Kalmanovitch from Bayit Yehudi overtly supports him from inside the coalition – but it takes more than this to deter a dedicated ideologist like King. In actuality, the Barbur Gallery imbroglio is only one of many issues on his agenda. Preserving the sanctity of Shabbat in the city and preventing the participation of the municipality – through financing – in any activity desecrating the sacred day is high on his list of priorities.
As a result, Barkat is under increasing pressure from different parts of his coalition who pull him simultaneously to the Left and Right.
Meanwhile, the next mayoral is less than 18 months away. Stay tuned.