As D-Day gets closer, municipal election tensions rise, disorder takes over and confusion reigns. Alliances of yesterday become disbandment of today and war declaration of tomorrow, and we are still more than three months away from elections.
One of those test cases is what happened in the last two weeks in the Yerushalmim list (two seats at city council), threatening unity among the Yerushalmim movement, the natural reservoir of the list at council. Some list members are complaining that MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), on her way back to Jerusalem’s affairs, undermined the state of things. Yerushalmim is a list aiming mostly at young couples and families, predominantly Modern Orthodox or traditional, founded by Azaria and headed by Fleur Hassan-Nahoum since Azaria moved to the Knesset three years ago.
Hassan-Nahoum, while succeeding in maintaining a list composed of representatives from other lists conducted serious talks with candidate Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut) regarding an eventual merging of the two lists. The merging of Yerushalmim and Hitorerut has been in the air since the first appearance of the two, about a decade ago, but, for several reasons – including a high level of ego – hasn’t happened so far, despite repeated requests from the public. For now, it seems that Hassan-Nahoum has become the most sought-after city council member by almost all the candidates who wish to add her to their list.
Hassan-Nahoum says that the issue is still on the table, and judging from the amicable casual encounter with Berkovitch on Monday morning while she was answering In Jerusalem’s questions, the chances of the two lists finally finding a way to form a block of pluralistic lists in the next council hasn’t totally vanished.
On the ground, what happened last week was an official refusal of Hassan-Nahoum, supported by Gutler and Yehuda Greenfield-Gilat, both members of the list at the current city council, to agree to Azaria’s return to head the list and run for the mayoral position. They argued that this wouldn’t work, as if her three years at the Knesset away from Jerusalem’s affairs had never happened. Hassan-Nahoum is very cautious at this stage not to let any bitterness take over, and she is reluctant to talk too much about the personal aspect of her decision, but she nevertheless agreed to answer a few questions.
So where do these talks about merging with Hitorerut really stand?
They are not revoked, everything is still possible, I can assure you that I am paying attention to any proposals.
But for the moment you have stepped out of the list which has been so identified with you and your public involvement. Is this wise?
I believe that there is a real danger that the pluralistic vote will be split with so many candidates in the race. We all carry a heavy responsibility to do first of all what’s best for our city and not ourselves.
So in your opinion the pluralist sector should all stand behind one candidate and not be divided among so many candidates. But we all know that some of these candidates run mostly in order to obtain a realistic place inside the coalition at the end of the race. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t this the democratic game?
I have explained at length my position. I joined Yerushalmim five years ago out of my wish to make a change here, together with such a quality group of people, who really care about this city. For the past year I had the privilege to lead the list at the council, and together we have achieved a few important successes that have a positive impact on the residents of Jerusalem. We have led a determined struggle to keep the First Station open on Shabbat, bike paths, improving the education system, the project to provide shade in public gardens, the struggle to prevent the closure of the pediatric hemato-oncology wing at the Hadassah Medical Center, and many more issues and struggles for a better life in this city. I believe in a pluralistic society. And now, in total opposition to my position, the movement has decided that Rachel Azaria would lead the list as candidate for the mayoral position, and I think it is wrong and it will not serve the pluralist sector.
So you are continuing to serve on the city council?
Yes. I continue to be a city council member, and pledge to continue to serve the residents of Jerusalem and to do my utmost so that this city becomes the best place to live in.
You’re planning your next steps, but nothing is settled for the moment. Do you check with other candidates, too?
Yes, but in fact, I don’t even have to – I am approached on an almost daily basis by several persons. I listen to all of them, I really listen, but for the moment I have not decided anything. With my partners, we represent a true face of what and who are the Jerusalemites who are pluralists – whether they are religious or secular or traditional, and I believe that we represent the largest segment of the residents.
This is the time when rumors reign. There is spin all over and quite a lot of disinformation, too. How can a resident who is not familiar with the political scene know the truth?
We should only trust independent polls. My suggestion for voters trying to reach the truth: Look into the protocols of the municipality and its committee sessions; you can find there exactly what every city council member did or voted for, as well as the agendas of all these committees, that will tell the whole story.
You probably won’t tell us at this stage who of the nine candidates would be your choice, but would you say that all options are on the table?
Yes, absolutely. Well, I don’t think I could become a candidate for city council on a haredi list – although, on a personal level, I have excellent relationships with them. They have a high consideration for me despite the fact that they know I am not haredi and support the opening of places of entertainment on Shabbat. But yes, I meet most of the candidates, and I listen to them and their plans and I hear serious proposals – and I will make a decision soon. It might be a very interesting one.