What would Ofer Berkowitz do as Jerusalem's mayor?

Berkowitz, who heads the large, secular faction in the council, is vocal in his criticism of Mayor Moshe Lion’s policies. 

OFER BERKOVITCH of Hitorerut, head of opposition at Jerusalem city council. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
OFER BERKOVITCH of Hitorerut, head of opposition at Jerusalem city council.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

With about a year and a half before the next mayoral election, Ofer Berkowitz, chairman of the Hitorerut faction in the city council, side-steps questions about his plans for the position. But Berkowitz, who heads the large, secular faction in the council, nevertheless is vocal in his criticism of Mayor Moshe Lion’s policies. 

Big budgets are flowing into the city coffers under Lion. The money is invested in improving the infrastructure in the east of the city and in developing the education system there, alongside increased construction in the west of the city. So what is still not good enough in your eyes?

In 2018, we at Hitorerut pushed for investments from the government. Positive initial steps for investment in infrastructure and economic horizon in all parts of the city are making an important change. Credit is due to Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who pushed and led the decision to transfer the funds. 

We see a sequence of events of national religious breadth, and a great deal of incitement. Although Israel has not changed the status quo on the Temple Mount, even in the complex security situations during Ramadan, Moshe Lion has no answer; he is not a figure of a leader. There are things where he is good – for example, cleanliness and construction in the city – but not in leadership.

But a mayor has to clean and construct first?

When it comes to the great challenges, he is almost absent. He does not know how to fight against the perpetrators and instigators. For example, leveraging investment in strong and moderate groups that come out against violence, without sacrificing our nationalism.

 BERKOWITZ IS concerned about the low percentage of employed Arab women. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) BERKOWITZ IS concerned about the low percentage of employed Arab women. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
But the city has other issues to face. What do you say about it?

Regarding a lot of issues – for example, the very low figures of Arab women in employment – not much is being done. I do not see a strategic struggle to fight poverty in the eastern part of the city. On the other hand, I see inaction when it comes to Hamas’s actions. Is anything being done to encourage moderate leadership on the east side of the city?

Mass transportation, housing construction – there is a fever of construction in the city...

We need to understand that [urban renewal] is done in a living and existing environment. There must be consideration given to the residents, which does not exist. What happened on the roads until recently, and also the terrible traffic jams and the quality of life that was damaged, will last for many years. Conditions must be set that will make it safer and more reasonable. 

I’m happy about the plan in Atarot. Otherwise, there is no need to build 46-story towers in one neighborhood. To me, that is unreasonable. It is like experimenting with human beings; residents will want to move from there. I am in favor of raising the heights of buildings in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods as well, but scattering all these towers in all the neighborhoods. 

Perhaps the worst for us, is this mayor’s incapacity to cope with the negative migration from the city. Every year there is a new record of negative migration. I am not calm about the situation in Jerusalem. I maintain that the ultra-Orthodox control the municipality. Hence the Warburg project [to build 61 residential units in three boutique buildings, with quick access to main roads leading out of the city] has been canceled, and many neighborhoods are undergoing a process of “haredization.” It endangers Jerusalem as a tolerant and open city

Moshe Lion brings money, but has no strategy. The city is clean, with nice gardens, but when it comes to young people and negative migration, I see mostly failure and lack of leadership.■