The wrath of the south

The nascent union emerged, apparently, under an unfavorable star configuration – since there was animosity almost from the start.

A housing project in Katamon Het.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A housing project in Katamon Het.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In 2009, following a round of elections for local Jerusalem councils, two relatively small and geographically close councils were united into a single large one; thus the Darom (“south”) local council and community center was born. The nascent union emerged, apparently, under an unfavorable star configuration – since there was animosity almost from the start.
“The idea of putting two such different populations together under the same roof was doomed from the beginning,” says a council employee, “but nobody thought it would reach such levels of dysfunction and even violence.”
At least twice, attempts were made to close it down and re-divide it into two different councils. For financial reasons and because no one at Safra Square wants to admit that merging the councils was a bad idea, the re-division into two councils has been put on hold – although the problems are evident and growing.
Elected in 2012, the new board of the united council was crafted to represent the two different populations as much as possible. On one side are the residents of the Gonenim and Rassco, areas with relatively well-to-do, mostly young families. On the other side are the residents of Katamon Het and Tet, a rather impoverished and underprivileged population whose council representatives apparently felt underappreciated and perhaps even discriminated against right from the beginning. Tensions and problems emerged so quickly that by 2015, the Jerusalem Society for Local Councils and Community Centers already published a report documenting the aggressive atmosphere reigning at the board’s meetings, sometimes even devolving into physical violence.
In addition to the suspicion of each side of unequal distribution of services and resources, according to an employee who prefers anonymity, “There were differences over what each side wanted to do in the council and the community center’s programs – they didn’t share the same taste about what is preferable.”
The municipality’s legal adviser was informed in almost real time about the problems in the council and issued warning letters to the individuals involved, but apparently this was not enough to prevent the situation from deteriorating. Measures were suggested, such as workshops on developing organizational and consulting skills – but nothing helped.
By the end of 2015, it was decided to split the council again into two separate councils and community centers, but as a last attempt, city council member Moshe Lion, the newly appointed holder of the portfolio of local councils and community centers, stepped in and tried to ameliorate the situation.
One of the most contentious issues was the lack of trust between the board, the management and the staff, especially toward the kindergarten administration. Some employees did not get their salaries, while others were fired by members of the board who did not have the authority to do so. As a result, a program implemented in Katamon Het and Tet to advance early childhood programs in the kindergartens was canceled by the foundation that financed it. The program was eventually reinstated with less funding, but is to be discontinued next year.
Gonenim resident and veteran social activist Yossi Saidov, who was elected to the board in 2011 but was forced to resign, says the problems there are serious.
“Our children do not get what they deserve. Things are not working appropriately, money is wasted for unnecessary things and nothing is working out. It’s a shame and should be stopped immediately. This unification is not working; the municipality should take immediate steps.”
Saidov is also one of the leaders of the struggle for the Mesila Park project and is in the forefront of the residents of Gonenim who oppose moving plans for the Blue Line light rail from Emek Refaim Street to Harakevet Street.
The latest blow to the unified council is that a council secretary allegedly added large sums to her salary that she was not entitled to.
Lion says that while he is aware of the problems, he believes that some of the issues have been exaggerated by people with an agenda. Things are not that bad and are improving, he contends.
The parties have agreed to sign a document stating that from now on, all contacts between the board and the management will be conducted respectfully.
“I agree that these are two quite different populations and it may be really difficult to get it together, but I have managed to get the attention and the engagement of all sides to start on a new path and move on,” Lion states. “I believe that this is still possible.”