This week in Jerusalem: Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs 441508

Strikes, anti-Muslim vandalism and budget cuts.

Fire at B'Tselem building Jerusalem, January 10, 2016 (photo credit: BERNARD BOUHADANA)
Fire at B'Tselem building Jerusalem, January 10, 2016
(photo credit: BERNARD BOUHADANA)
The unkindest cuts
Following the cuts to the municipal budget for 2016, the severe slashing of the education budget is raising concern among the members of the Jerusalem Parents’ Association. A letter regarding the matter, signed by the JPA committee, was sent to the Finance Ministry and the Knesset’s Finance Committee last week.
According to the municipality’s figures, NIS 65 million is to be cut from the education budget, which JPA president Paz Cohen says will be extremely detrimental to pupils. One of the parents’ major concerns is the negative effect the cut may have on the prospect of new young families coming to live in the capital.
NIS 400m. was cut from Jerusalem’s budget for the year, following the refusal of the Finance Ministry to add that sum, despite the need for it presented by Mayor Nir Barkat.
As a result, Barkat announced his decision to implement cuts in the city’s other programs and projects as well, with a major slashing of the culture budget. The reduction in the culture budget will primarily impact the arts and culture institutions, which cannot operate without the municipality’s support.
As Finance Ministry representatives were absent from a recent debate at the Knesset’s State Control Committee on the matter of the Jerusalem budget cuts, the discussion was canceled.
Rubbing salt in the wound
The municipality’s welfare department, specifically the city’s social workers, is also facing a cut in funding. As a result, dozens of social workers will soon be dismissed.
Considering that in some areas there are already not enough social workers to meet the needs of residents, some serious repercussions are to be expected. David Golan, the representative for social workers at the Jerusalem district of the Histadrut labor federation, has scheduled an emergency meeting on the matter.
Sources at Safra Square warn that the mayor is adamant about retaliating against the Finance Ministry’s refusal to add the NIS 400m. and say that “These cuts in the city’s programs, as well as the additional firing of employees, will go on until this battle between Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon comes to an end.”
Shabbat at the Islamic Museum
A new initiative of the Museum for Islamic Art will offer a theater program for children every Saturday at noon throughout February. Presented by the Orna Porat Youth Theater Company, the program will feature a series of plays on themes such as the struggle to establish the Hebrew language in pre-Mandate Palestine and Janusz Korczak’s work with children in Poland.
The plays are included in museum admission: NIS 40 for adults; NIS 20 for children.
The museum is located at 2 Hapalmah Street. Tel: 566-1291; website:
New sheriff in town
Following the changes at the helm of the Israel Police, a new Jerusalem police chief has been appointed – Southern District commander Yoram Halevy, 52, who is replacing former chief Moshe “Chico” Edry, who moved to the Tel Aviv region.
Halevy was born in Kiryat Menachem, where he lives with his wife and children.
This is not the only change expected to take place under new Police Chief Roni Alsheich. There will be more police stations in the city, increased budgets and more activity aimed at preventing terror and other criminal acts.
No women, no committee
Will the employees’ committee representative for the haredi education administration be a woman – for the first time in Safra Square history? It is not assured, but there have been some serious attempts to accomplish this.
Like almost all the departments and administrations at the municipality, haredi education has a representative on the general employees’ council. At the elections scheduled for January 20, Esther Chen is one of the candidates. However, the few male employees of this administration refuse to approve her candidacy and threaten to go on strike if Chen or any other woman runs for the position. They contend that it is a halachic issue for a woman to represent men – observant though she is – and therefore require that Chen renounce her candidacy.
It is worth noting that Chen has been replacing the former representative of her committee, who resigned from the municipality six months ago, but so far no halachic dispute has been raised.
Short circuit, tall tales
On Monday morning, a few hours after taking control of the blaze at B’Tselem’s office in Talpiot, firefighters announced that the fire was caused by a short circuit. Since the outbreak of the fire, there had been many reactions and declarations that it was probably arson committed by right-wing activists in retaliation for the left-wing activities of the NGO, but it was ultimately determined that no crime had been committed.
While social media posts and talkbacks on the subject continued in a largely aggressive vein, it is important to note that the official reaction published by B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad stated: “It is with an immense sigh of relief that the organization and its staff learned that the fire was due to a short circuit.”
Good morning, strike
If nothing significant happens until then, as of January 17 municipality employees will go on strike. Taking place three days before the election for the new employees’ committee, this strike is a blow to the present committee’s chairman, Zion Dahan, who is running for a third term – but firstly, for the city and its residents.
The strike has been decided upon by the Histadrut labor federation’s Jerusalem district chairman Danny Bonfil, as a protest against Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to fire hundreds of employees and cancel lots of programs, following the refusal of the Finance Ministry to contribute to the capital’s budget. Barkat decided earlier this week to fire 230 employees of the local neighborhood councils and community centers – a step that would totally freeze some of the most prestigious community projects for youth and senior citizens.
Most of the employees are not happy about this strike, but being members of the Histadrut they cannot oppose it. This includes Dahan, whose ticket for the election is his 10 years as chairman of the committee with zero strikes, besides many achievements for the workers.
Good morning, vandalism
Arab students at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Academic College found the institution’s prayer room desecrated on Monday morning.
Prayer books were torn up and scattered on the floor, and verses from the Koran written on heavy-duty paper stained and partly torn. Arab students say that despite some tension between them and Jewish students, there was never any particular problem and that most of the time relations were friendly. Condemnations were issued by college president Prof. Bertold Fridlender and Uri Cohen, president of the campus chapter of the Likud-affiliated Lavie student coalition. The college will not tolerate any such acts of hatred and everything will be done to bring the perpetrators to justice, asserted Fridlender.
Not canceled, moved
A workshop organized by Shatil, the acting branch of the New Israel Fund for social and political activism, had to cancel a workshop planned to take place at the Yad Sarah center. Shatil, however, announced this past Wednesday that the workshop will instead be simply transferred to another location, following the decision not to allow it in the center.
Right-wing activist Shay Glick, who initiated the change, says that such a workshop, designed to “instruct people how to use cellphone cameras to document protests and IDF activities, simply could not be taking place at such an institution as Yad Sarah” – and called on the public to express their anger.
As a result of a mass protest, Yad Sarah went back on its commitment to host the three planned workshop meetings. In its publication, Shatil did not mention that it would be instructing workshop attendees how to monitor IDF activities, but it also didn’t say that IDF activities are not part of the workshop.
Shatil replied that “being attentive to all social issues in Israel, including social housing, the gas struggle and health issues, [the group] sees in this workshop as a toolbox for social activists and opens it to all, especially in these days of struggle for basic rights.”