Moshe Lion, Yossi Saidov: Old West-esque rivals of Jerusalem politics

In this story, there is no good, no bad and no ugly. There is a powerful mayor who has managed to keep his 2018 election campaign promises against a simple city resident and activist.

 Illustrative of an Old West gunfight: Will good triumph over evil in our complex city of Jerusalem? (photo credit: RAWPIXEL)
Illustrative of an Old West gunfight: Will good triumph over evil in our complex city of Jerusalem?
(photo credit: RAWPIXEL)

In old Westerns, the most complicated of plots turn, at the end of the day, into personal struggles, a duel between the two principal characters, in which the triumph of good over evil is expected.

Real life is not a movie, however, and the plot can get complicated and twist into an endless struggle. The loser in these cases is neither the sheriff nor his opponent, but the people in the town.

In our case, the town is the capital of Israel, a most complex city with over a million residents, including around a third ultra-Orthodox Jews and a third Arabs (the latter are generally residents, not citizens). 

As for the competing characters, they are Mayor Moshe Lion and activist Yossi Saidov.

In this story there is no good, no bad and no ugly. There is a powerful mayor who has managed to keep his 2018 election campaign promises by cleaning up the city and reinforcing its mass transportation system – particularly the light rail. And in the face-off with him is not a local political personality, but a simple city resident, an activist who systematically refuses to enter the political game and remains strongly rooted in civil society.

 YOSSI SAIDOV: Determined activist.  (credit: Courtesy Yossi Saidov)
YOSSI SAIDOV: Determined activist. (credit: Courtesy Yossi Saidov)

Moshe Lion versus Yossi Saidov: The never-ending rivalry shaking Israel's capital

Yossi Saidov, once a journalist and today a social entrepreneur, is deeply rooted in local and social ventures focused on the status and condition of the small citizen vis-a-vis the establishment. He is challenging Lion on a series of issues and events, predominantly around public transportation, traffic and the preservation of the city’s environment and well-being of its residents. 

At the time of writing, Lion is the leading candidate in the upcoming mayoral election, primarily because he has no real competition, although we have learned of the emergence of a mayoral candidate from among the city’s Arab residents. His chances against Lion, however – who is so connected to key people in the government and the Knesset – are not significant despite the importance of a resident of the eastern part of the city joining the election campaign.

The struggle between Lion and Saidov is extremely personal and has several characteristics, specifically their fundamental differences in status. Lion is at the heart of the establishment, with a rich and respected record of action at the national level, whereas Saidov is a volunteer social activist. At Lion’s disposal is a large and powerful mechanism. Saidov was recently elected chairman of the Gonen local council administration (his own neighborhood) in a procedure that not everyone involved enjoyed.

According to Saidov, his election to the post caused Lion so much annoyance that it led to the involvement of some of the mayor’s assistants in the management of the community administration. 

But Saidov’s apparently non-powerful status is what provides him with the bulk of his power. Had he entered the political system and run for the city council, he would have become a player with clipped wings in a game where the mayor, any mayor, has a huge advantage. 

And yet, due to his insistence on remaining outside the established political system he has created a struggle with different rules, a game in which it is impossible to ignore him even though – and perhaps because – he has no official power.

But what really annoys Saidov? The bulk of his criticism is directed at what he calls Lion’s “lack of vision.”

Saidov acknowledges that Lion has indeed cleaned up the city and that this should not be underestimated. But he is bothered by the mayor promoting projects that harm the fabric of urban life, such as the building of parking lots instead of encouraging the use of public transportation; or the promotion of a project that will damage one of the city’s assets: the railway park for the Berech road.

But what particularly upsets Saidov is what he calls is “the illusion of openness and listening to everyone” promoted by the accessibility of the mayor’s WhatsApp. With all due respect to the absence of divisions between the mayor and the citizens, WhatsApp is not a tool for planning a city on the scale of Jerusalem, complains Saidov.

Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel, but also the poorest, points out Saidov, and its treatment requires measures and interventions at state – not local – level. Yet, while admitting that no mayor alone can solve Jerusalem’s poverty issue, Saidov is convinced that Lion, more than anyone else, is the man able to enlist the necessary state involvement to improve that situation, and yet, for reasons unclear, resists doing so. 

At the six-story building at Safra Square, the word is that Saidov is just a small annoyance. However, since he remains adamant in refusing to join the political game and insists on playing by his own rules, this duel may continue for a long time. ❖