“How can you address the pluralist sector’s interests? The parking portfolio, for example, with all due respect, is irrelevant to the needs of the pluralist sector,” said Berkovitch.
By PEGGY CIDOR
A year has passed since 3,000 votes separated City Council member Ofer Berkovitch from becoming the youngest mayor of Jerusalem, and sent him to the opposition benches.Berkovitch is the leader of Hitorerut, the largest list at the City Council. He says that while he believes he and his list should be part of the coalition for the benefit of the whole city, he feels Mayor Moshe Lion’s invitation to join is not authentic, and therefore he cannot be part of it.In Jerusalem sat down with Berkovitch to learn what he and Hitorerut hope to accomplish as the opposition, the chances he might still reach an agreement with the mayor, his plans for the next mayoral election in 2024, and what he feels are the most urgent actions the city needs to take.Why are you still in the opposition?“This is totally Lion’s decision to keep us out, and to ignore, through that, our voters. Working from the opposition is not an easy task but we are adamant to make our voice heard. We are not renouncing, even if the atmosphere is not a friendly one. This is our responsibility.”Berkovitch points out that, in fact, the most important committee at Safra Square, Planning and Construction, has no representatives from the pluralist side. “If you are not there, how can you address the pluralist sector’s interests? The parking portfolio, for example, with all due respect, is irrelevant to the needs of the pluralist sector.”How would you comment on the mayor’s first year in office?Advertisement“Moshe Lion has no vision for this city. He has no answer to the economic, social and planning challenges facing Jerusalem. I don’t see the big hi-tech populations and companies moving here. I don’t see significant steps to improve the situation among haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and Arab residents. And the worst is the situation on the ground in the neighborhoods. Wherever you go, you’ll see that all the projects aimed for haredim are implemented, but nothing is done, as planned, for the pluralist sector. Look at the Warburg project. Nothing has moved so far, to name just one case.”What can you realistically do from the opposition benches?“Yes, it is not easy but we don’t give up. We work hard. In Pisgat Ze’ev, residents feel that everything is done to ease the way for more haredim to move in, as the municipality builds their necessary public venues as required and has even enabled turning grounds planned for working venues into housing to match the demands. In Ramat Sharett we managed to cancel a plan to build a kollel (institute for advanced Jewish studies) there. In Givat Masua there was a plan to build a huge mikveh [ritual bath]. This also we managed to stop. All these are pluralist neighborhoods, and constructing these venues for haredim facilitates their entry into these neighborhoods and changes their character.”There are still four years ahead of you before the next election. Do you see yourself continuing to fight from the opposition until the next race?I am dedicated to work for the residents who voted for me. I am here, and believe me, this is not an easy task. Hitorerut is here to stay, and yes, we look toward the next elections. Until then, we will be on our watch.