Mud-slinging and more

Last week, Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria's former secretary took things one step too far and posted some rude remarks on her Facebook page about Azaria.

Jerusalem municipality (photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
Jerusalem municipality
(photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
The rumors and the gossip had been circulating for quite a while at Safra Square, but they never made the front page until last week. Negative comments about the quality of deputy mayor Rachel Azaria’s working relationships had been heard during the years that she sat on the city council, but last week her former secretary took it one step too far and posted some rude remarks on her Facebook page about Azaria. The reaction was quick and severe – the employee was forced to delete the remarks and will stand before a disciplinary committee.
This incident doesn’t appear to be anything more than a more or less expected incident of bad working relationships as may occur anywhere else. The employee is not in danger of losing her job (she had already moved to another position in the municipality before the Facebook incident), and it looks like the whole thing will end up with a formal apology or, as a worst case scenario, with a comment in her personal file in the Human Resources Department at city hall.
But this particular story goes beyond that parameter.
What matters more is the general atmosphere among the employees – more than 7,000 – in regard to their rights, their working conditions and their security within the system.
Not so many years ago, the municipality’s employees were represented by a rather militant workers’ union that threatened the mayor and the high-ranking officials with strikes and threats of strikes for any real or imagined infringement of the employees’ rights. The watchword at the time was “You can’t move a desk from one office to another without the union’s consent.”
Those were bad days for the municipality and, as a result, for the city and the residents, and not all employees enjoyed that extensive care. One of the veterans who still works at Safra Square says, “To get the support of the union, employees had to swear total allegiance to the union’s interests, which were not always the same as those of the employees.”
So what has changed over the past few years? Firstly, Mayor Nir Barkat’s management style – what many call “the hi-tech style.” Among other things, it means that everything is planned in advance, that nothing is left to some last-minute improvisation. And, above all, the very different criterion introduced by Barkat: the accountability of the high-ranking officials. So far, this is the good news. But there is another side to the coin.
Two of the most veteran employees at Safra Square told this reporter a few days ago that besides work assignments that are more organized and better planned, there is also a high degree of suspicion, mistrust and even the fear of currying disfavor if one hasn’t proven total loyalty.
“The checking and the follow-up are very tight,” added one of the veterans, “which is a good thing; but some of the high-ranking officials are so afraid of disappointing their superiors that they are very hard on their subordinates. The whole thing has created an atmosphere of apprehension, mistrust and a lot of tension among the various ranks.”
Asked how things reached that point, the source said that the atmosphere was more about concurrency and less about collaboration. “It is as if every high-ranking official and, to a certain degree, some of the deputy mayors, have the desire to please, to prove their efficiency, all the time. Again, that’s not bad in itself, but sometimes it takes its toll.”
Bad relationships and inter-rank tensions were not the only thing that created some stress at Safra Square this week. The Jerusalem Conference – an annual event organized by the religious right-wing Arutz 7 radio and newspaper chain – has managed to anger some of the activists identified with Meretz and the groups supporting the LGBT community. An advertisement for the conference announced, besides other items and debates, a panel discussion about the controversial issue of conversion therapy. The fact that the panel also included representatives of Bat Kol, the organization representing religious lesbians, didn’t help matters, and the issue immediately reached the social networks and raised a stormy debate. Most of the anger was directed toward the municipality, whose logo appears on the advertisement, meaning that the event is receiving some financial support from taxpayers.
A spokesman for the municipality explained that the program of the conference was not planned with the municipality and that the financial support was negligible and didn’t exceed any other kind of financial support approved by the municipality for that kind of event. As for the controversial panel, the spokesman said it was completely in the hands and decision of the organizers.
However, the issue here is not the money but the question of freedom of speech and opinion. After supporting the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish controversial cartoons, can Israelis refuse religious Jews in Israel the right to even raise the question of the possibility of “curing” homosexuals?