Countdown to Jerusalem elections begins - Safra Square gets ready

The campaigns of both the mayor and the head of the opposition have already begun, with each side preparing its ammunition for D-Day – scheduled for the final day of October 2023.

 OPPOSITION HEAD Ofer Berkovitch has been busy.  (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
OPPOSITION HEAD Ofer Berkovitch has been busy.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Officially, no one on city council is preparing for the next electoral campaign. But, in reality, the campaigns of both the mayor and the head of the opposition have already begun, with each side preparing its ammunition for D-Day – scheduled for the final day of October, 2023.

Mayor Moshe Lion has been claiming, at every opportunity, that everything he is doing is solely for the benefit of the city and its residents and that he doesn’t have time to think about the elections. Some facts on the ground don’t match that claim. 

But even on the other side, though much more discreetly, opposition head Ofer Berkovitch and his Hitorerut movement have been quite busy, and the relative silence there does not reflect what is happening inside.

Lion took a big gamble when he decided about two years ago that infrastructure works for the additional light rail lines would be carried out at the same time. The decision turned the city into one big construction and excavation site, but Lion is sure that his bet will be successful – that is, if all the construction indeed is nearing its conclusion toward the end of 2023, enabling him to present his strongest card to the voters. 

Berkovitch is not blind to this, and said this wager has actually been weighing heavily on the shoulders of the Jerusalem's residents, who have been suffering for nearly two years from a congested city, bumpy roads and an only partially functioning public transportation system, all to fulfill the mayor’s plan to be easily reelected.

SAFRA SQUARE has become the headquarters of Jerusalem’s battle against the virus. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)SAFRA SQUARE has become the headquarters of Jerusalem’s battle against the virus. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Berkovitch has detailed Lion’s failures, mentioning dozens of cases where the mayor has glorified his name, in several publications and announcements of events taking place in the city, even including a comic strip the municipality published in a haredi newspaper – all aimed to boost support for the mayor, but doing so against the law, complains Berkovitch. 

While Lion has prided himself on cleaning, improving infrastructure and developing public transportation, Berkovitch argued that except for cleanliness, where Lion delivered, street infrastructure is deteriorating, and that only after the pressure Berkovitch and his faction exerted on the mayor did he begin to repair the roads.

Another issue concerning Berkovitch is that too many pluralist neighborhoods are under an ultra-Orthodox cultural invasion, mainly in collaboration with haredi movements. Lion has neglected public transportation, and in practice Safra Square has been encouraging the use of private vehicles, with the addition of parking lots and subsidized parking prices, which are actually promoting residents to continue driving, the Hitorerut leader said. 

The mayor has declared a few times in the past that he is sure that once the additional light rail lines are up and running, Jerusalemites will give up driving, but in the meantime, he must provide them with reasonable parking.

Lion has mentioned his popularity more often than not, including among the Arab residents on the east side, and he hasn’t hid his belief that this will help him in the election. Berkovitch has claimed it was precisely during Lion’s shift that a record negative migration rate from the city was recorded, mainly young families belonging to the Zionist pluralistic public, and that Lion is doing nothing to stop this.

Public transportation, infrastructure, culture and above all, the question of the character of the neighborhoods – in other words, the constant fear that the entry of haredi residents will change the character of pluralistic neighborhoods – are all on the agenda. All this is hovering over the current city leadership, but there is no guarantee that another leader will be able to cope better, since the integration of the haredi sector – or lack of – in all parts of the capital has occupied every mayor since the days of Teddy Kollek.

However, neither of the two have spoken publicly about the question of factions in the next city council. Lion has a huge disadvantage here – he does not have a single representative on the council. Berkovitch, who lost to Lion, still represents the largest pluralist faction on the council, though he suffered a significant blow with the defection of two members of his faction.

The countdown has started, and the year and a half left until the election are just a blink of an eye in terms of politics. ❖