Jerusalem's city council experiences role changes year before election

With the temporary departure of Ofer Berkowitz from the local scene, there was optimism in Mayor Moshe Lion’s office.

 CITY COUNCIL: Stay tuned. (photo credit: ABIR SULTAN/FLASH90)
CITY COUNCIL: Stay tuned.
(photo credit: ABIR SULTAN/FLASH90)

It was supposed to be straightforward and quick. 

With the temporary departure of Ofer Berkowitz from the local scene, there was optimism in Mayor Moshe Lion’s office. They were hopeful that before long, it would be possible to join the large secular faction in the council while strengthening relations with his ultra-Orthodox partners. 

But this optimism was short-lived. After the expected yet dramatic announcement of Berkowitz, that he was vacating the position of chairman of the Hitorerut movement, two members of the faction in the council announced their intention to stand for the vacant position: Einav Bar-Cohen and Adir Schwartz.  Bar-Cohen, who seemed the most natural and competent successor, was Lion’s preferred choice. 

But then, quite unexpectedly, she announced her decision to quit. “My heart is in Jerusalem and in Hitorerut,” she wrote. “It is not easy for me, but I feel after much deliberation that it is the right thing for me at this stage of my life. After a decade of public activity for Jerusalem [I now want] to focus on my professional activities. Hitorerut opened the door to public life for me, taught me to dream and make it come true, and gave me the power and belief that you can change and influence.” 

Bar-Cohen joined Hitorerut in the previous term in 2013 and was a prominent council member who held the business promotion portfolio, as No. 2 in the faction on the city council. She is also the chairman of the economic society in Ramat Gan, and chief of staff in the office of Ramat Gan Mayor, Carmel Shama. 

 MAYOR MOSHE LION serving without a city council faction of his own is strange, to say the least. (Pictured: In Sept., visiting Jerusalem students on the first of day school). (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) MAYOR MOSHE LION serving without a city council faction of his own is strange, to say the least. (Pictured: In Sept., visiting Jerusalem students on the first of day school). (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Bar-Cohen’s decision to quit opened the door to Shwartz, 25, to head the movement without any competition. 

It was no secret that Lion would be very happy to see Bar-Cohen in Berkowitz’s place. He appreciates and respects her and views her as a potential partner, if not this year, then maybe after the elections which are due to be held in less than a year. 

What is Lion planning?

Lion meanwhile is holding his cards close to his chest as it is not clear what he prefers. Would he prefer to run with the ticket of his previous successes – sanitation, construction and public transportation – while waiting for the election results to decide on the next coalition? Alternatively, he may decide to run as the head of an independent list, which, if it obtains more seats on the council, would afford him a more comfortable relationship with the haredim. 

Ultimately, during his four years in office, Lion has, for the most part, juggled the demands of his partners. It should not be forgotten that, thanks to their campaigning, he was elected. This helped him to achieve his personal ambition – to return as many secularists and young people as possible to the city.

As far as is known, Lion has nothing against Schwartz on a personal level, although this aspect of their relationship remains a mystery. However, Schwartz is considered to be more Left-leaning, whereas other members identify with the Right of the political map in Israel. Consequently, Schwartz may not be the ideal candidate for Lion to partner with before the election.

Schwartz himself has not ruled anything out at this stage. He inherited a magnificent movement, which changed the face of urban politics. It has faded, however, over the years, and he is now faced with the prospect of having to tighten the ranks in order to bring back the supporters who had grown tired of four years of opposition.

What also remains unclear is how the relationship between Schwartz and the various parties involved will develop. These parties include the Hitorerut movement and the non-haredi members of Lion’s coalition; Laura Wharton, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Yossi Havilio, whom Berkovitch has often accused of surrendering to the mayor and his ultra-Orthodox associates.

With 11 months to go to the next municipal elections, stay tuned for more. ❖