Ofer Berkovitch: Roaring against the 'Lion'

Opposition leader Ofer Berkovitch is hungry to help Jerusalem.

OFER BERKOVITCH: From obscurity to credibility.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
OFER BERKOVITCH: From obscurity to credibility.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Hitorerut (“Awakening”) Party nabbed seven seats in the October 2018 Jerusalem municipal election. But party head Ofer Berkovitch, 36, fell just short of being crowned mayor of the Golden City.
One year later, Berkovitch, who now heads the opposition, said he is still fighting to make Jerusalem great.
“We see Jerusalem as a city that is very special with a lot of diversity,” he told In Jerusalem from his small office on the second floor of building four in the Safra Square municipal complex, the city seat of power. If he had won the election, which finally tipped in favor of Moshe Lion, he would have had a large window overlooking the Old City walls. Berkovitch’s office has no window.
“For 12 years, Hitorerut built itself from the bottom up,” Berkovitch continued. “With volunteers, we helped develop the city economically, technologically, socially, brought tourism and small businesses, and helped improve the quality of life for secular, haredi, Jewish and Arab residents. We are the largest movement in Jerusalem, and we are a special party that is continuing to work for and to serve the interests of the very diverse public that voted for us.”
Berkovitch cited a recent party success: Hitorerut played a key role in Mayor Lion’s decision to mandate that around one-third of Jerusalem kindergartens and elementary schools will be disposable goods-free by September 2020.
However, in general, he noted, achieving his agenda has become increasingly challenging since Lion took office in December, as the mayor chose to exclude Hitorerut from the coalition.
DEPUTY MAYOR Fleur Hassan-Nahoum:  Mayor Moshe Lion is interested in ensuring Jerusalem remains a city for all residents, haredi or otherwise (Credit: PR)DEPUTY MAYOR Fleur Hassan-Nahoum: Mayor Moshe Lion is interested in ensuring Jerusalem remains a city for all residents, haredi or otherwise (Credit: PR)
“I don’t know why he did it,” Berkovitch admitted, “maybe he was afraid of us. But when you take the largest Zionist movement in Jerusalem and reduce its ability to act, you reduce the strength of Jerusalem’s Zionist community. Choosing not to have us in the coalition is bad for Jerusalem.”
Of course, there are pluralistic representatives in the coalition: Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, former municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio and Meretz councilwoman Laura Wharton. But Berkovitch insisted that “they have no influence.”
Specifically, he noted, Lion gave some of the most important portfolios – such as the building and construction portfolio – to ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition, which he said is a reflection of Lion’s commitment to the haredim over other constituents.
But Hassan-Nahoum disagreed.
“While it is true that the mayor gave the building and construction portfolio to Degel HaTorah, I was around for the negotiations [between Berkovitch and Lion]. The mayor was willing to make Berkovitch deputy head of that portfolio if he joined the coalition,” ” she recalled, noting that the mayor was willing to give Berkovitch’s party a deputy post for that portfolio if he joined the coalition.
She said that Berkovitch would not accept a deputy role and instead wanted to divide the city by haredi and non-haredi neighborhoods.
“That was very dangerous,” she said. “The mayor realized how