This week in Jerusalem:november 1,2017

Peggy Cidor's round-up of city affairs:not in our name

Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch: Appealing to the Jerusalem District Court against one of Mayor Nir Barkat’s rules.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch: Appealing to the Jerusalem District Court against one of Mayor Nir Barkat’s rules.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Not in our name
As protests of the haredi sector’s Jerusalem Faction become more aggressive, the larger part of the city’s haredi community increasingly dares to criticize them openly.
Last week, in a rare move, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, perhaps the second most influential of the country’s mainstream non-hassidic community, publicly declared that the demonstrations against cooperating with the IDF in regard to enlistment, even to obtain exemptions, were shameful acts. He described the faction as “empty and reckless” and “like a flock without a shepherd.” Sources inside the Jerusalem Faction – led by and obeying the orders of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach – say that while the protesters make a lot of noise and act with violence, they represent just a small, breakaway community, not haredim in general.
It is not clear whether this unusually open criticism of one part of the haredi sector from another part will be enough to put an end to the violent riots and demonstrations in the capital, or whether it is merely a tactic in the larger power struggle over leadership of Israel’s haredi sector.
One sign of the changes taking place in haredi society in the political realm is that for the first time, we might witness two haredi candidates running for mayor of the city.
Officially, the candidate of the haredi sector in the city is Moshe Lion, who hasn’t yet actually declared his candidacy, as he and the other potential candidates are awaiting Mayor Nir Barkat’s career decision.
However, things can move fast in the haredi sector. Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch unofficially declared his intention to run for mayor. Daitch represents a hassidic segment of the United Torah Judaism Party that has long felt underrepresented.
His impulse to run independently is perhaps not surprising in itself, but because he has not yet secured any official blessing from the rabbinical leadership of the haredi sector, his move is unusual.
Daitch’s partner in the same party, Deputy Mayor Itzhak Pindrus, didn’t appreciate his colleague’s declaration and announced this week that if Daitch indeed runs for mayor, he will also run. This would end a long-standing tradition that haredi candidates do not decide for themselves whether to run, but rather wait for a decision of the rabbis.
Moreover, two haredim have never run at the same time.
In all likelihood, these declarations, official and off the record, are merely attempts to test the water and check reactions. Neither Daitch nor Pindrus will run against Lion if Barkat leaves and certainly won’t run against Barkat if he takes a third tenure.
Politics and theater
Elisheva Mazia has been appointed CEO of the Khan Theater. A long-time supporter of Barkat, Mazia founded the Ruach Hadasha (New Spirit) association that has promoted youth programs and projects aiming at encouraging young Jerusalemites to remain in the city after they graduate from academic studies here.
One of Mazia’s more recent achievements was the Alliance House project in the old Kol Yisrael Haverim building close to Mahaneh Yehuda, offering a wide range of cultural events and programs.
About a year ago, Mazia resigned as CEO of New Spirit and moved on to a high-ranking position in the Treasury, but now she is again involved in Jerusalem’s cultural activities, at the helm of the Khan Theater, the city’s official theater company.
It’s war time In a surprise political move, Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut) has asked the Jerusalem District Court to take action against Barkat on the grounds that the mayor’s rule that no city hall employee should talk to him is illegal.
“The apparatus of the municipality is not the mayor’s property and thus he has no right to forbid any employee to talk to us,” wrote Berkovitch. “That is not the proper way for the municipality of the capital of the state to act.”
Hitorerut is fiercely opposed to Barkat’s plan to designate some neighborhoods as having a high haredi presence and others as predominately non-haredi areas when allocating educational institutions. Berkovitch views this plan as a surrender to haredi pressure and a Barkat tactic aimed at garnering their support for his move to the field of national politics at the expense of the non-haredi sector that voted for him.
Berkovitch says that because he and his list expressed opposition to and voted against the plan, Barkat is retaliating by forbidding meetings with high-ranking officials at the municipality or with subsidiary companies of the city.
The appeal is expected to be debated in the coming days.
Sources at Safra Square say that due to Berkovitch’s court maneuver, Barkat has decided to dismiss the list from his coalition. Yerushalmim’s Fleur Hassan-Nahoum says that while the two men quarrel over what she considers to be personal prestige issues, the city is suffering from neglect.
“As Barkat and Berkovitch are tearing each other apart for reasons that are less about content and more about ego, the residents of the city are those who suffer.
Barkat has little legitimacy as leader and Berkovitch little legitimacy as an adult.”
The church and the city
One of the topics addressed at recent meet-up dedicated to architecture in Jerusalem was the plight of residents whose homes are located on land owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. Municipality CEO Amnon Merhav said that no residents should leave their houses or sell them at low prices to anyone representing the Church or the new buyers of the plots. He noted that the municipality and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – The Jewish National Fund are doing their utmost to ensure that no dwellers will be forced out of their homes or forced to sell or leave, and that everything will be done in order to settle the issue.
Last week a special session was held at the Knesset on that issue and the various authorities are trying to find appropriate solutions. The Greek Orthodox Church owns a large number of plots in the city in key neighborhoods and some of these holdings were recently sold to unknown buyers abroad, raising the fear that many residents will be forced to leave their homes in the coming years.
Blue Line blues
The optimism expressed last week by the opponents of the planned Emek Refaim segment of the light rail might be a bit premature. While the regional committee has given a lot of attention to the tunnel alternative, some feel that it might be too difficult – and expensive – to achieve. Issues such as the entry and exit to the proposed tunnel pose complicated engineering issues that might require extensive work around the Liberty Bell Garden and close to the Gonenim neighborhood. A final decision should be taken in about three months.