Last Friday, Mayor Moshe Lion and city council opposition head Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut) took part in the Jerusalem Marathon.
No one expected either of them to break a record, but their participation certainly added to the sense of popular celebration enveloping the marathon. Incidentally – or not – the two didn’t meet at any point along their race; my guess is they were very careful not to.
Three years have passed since Berkovitch, a then-35-year-old Jerusalem-born candidate, lacked only 2,900 votes to become the youngest mayor of the Holy City.
Bad blood between the two is still here, poisoning the atmosphere.
Now that three years have passed since the last elections, Jerusalem is standing at some kind of starting point looking toward the 2023 elections. Though both sides are quite discreet on the topic, the talk is that both are revving their engines behind the scenes. Both are facing challenges, both sides are aware of the difficulties and complexities that this city holds, yet the circumstances, the challenges and the way these two are and will work are quite different.
Lion understands that he cannot allow himself to again end the campaign with no representatives from his own list on the city council. While the law does not prevent it, this is not a situation he can politically afford, not one more time. Thus Lion’s first goal will be to build a list attractive enough to draw votes of enough Jerusalemites, that if he is reelected, won’t leave him as dependent on coalition members as he is now. A prominent figure in Local Council circles said earlier this week that “Lion has been working with his hands tied, and had to, most of the time, literally walk on eggshells between his haredi partners on one side and his liberal partners on the other.”
The last thing Lion wants is to be thought of as a mayor in the hands of the haredim. Yet, up to a certain level, he indeed must take them into account, since they hold 17 of 31 council seats – with the seat number far outnumbering their actual presence in the city’s Jewish population.
As for Berkovitch, he faces a very different problem – as life sitting in the opposition is not an easy task.
Unlike the Knesset, city council members who are not deputy mayors are not on a salary; while they must expend a lot of time and attention, all of it is unpaid.
MOREOVER, THEIR capacity to pass decisions contrary to the mayor’s position is close to nil, thus further dulling the appeal of being in the opposition, which has contributed to the fact that quite a few prominent members retired.
Officially, that was the deal from the beginning: Berkovitch, aware of the burden of serving the public as a volunteer, set up an arrangement right from the start that apart from him, all Hitorerut members would only serve a halfterm (two-and-a-half-years) and let those lower on the list enter through a rotation among them.
However, that arrangement recently caused him great embarrassment, when four months ago verbal confrontations between the members broke records. Councilman Avishai Cohen has almost become a leper and last week officially left the list, asking the mayor to keep him on in the committees. Before that, Yamit Yoeli-Ella, formerly the CEO of Hitorerut and now a member of the list at city council, simply refused to rotate, and obtained Lion’s permission to continue to participate in some committees, against Berkovitch’s will. Officially, the Hitorerut response is that they will treat those who harm the movement severely, but clearly, something bad is going on within the biggest pluralist list ever on city council.
Cohen and Yoeli-Ela have not become part of Lion’s coalition – the law doesn’t allow it, since they together do not comprise a third of their original list. In fact, both are left hanging in the air a bit and haven’t obtained any commitment regarding their political futures. While Lion scored a sardonic victory over his opponent by abandoning the two, they are far from the political assets he needs to form his next list. With all due respect to their sincere will to serve Jerusalemites at the council, they do not represent an attractive “dowry” for the aspiring incumbent.
So who will be on Lion’s next list? The first names will be those who worked for him three years ago and were then part of his list. Yet these are exactly the people who didn’t “deliver the goods” – since, despite their efforts, they failed to win even a single council seat for Lion, leaving him the first Jerusalem mayor without any garrison of support.
And who will be on the next Hitorerut list? For now, Berkovitch is in the arena, getting ready for the next round. But who will follow him two years hence? The old guard who dreamed, worked and broke through at his side with the vision of a list of young Jerusalemites who will fight for this city is no longer so readily available. Many, while still faithful to that dream, have moved on. Some have turned out to be unreliable.
Berkovitch is adamant to go forward and run with the same message: Jerusalem is worth the fight and it is worth remaining here to build a better city, unlike those who packed up and left. And what about Lion? Will he dare to build a list that will – for a change – represent the true Jerusalem identity, the one that includes religious, traditionalist, secular, men and women? Perhaps he could also invite Arabs from the east side to take part? Only some 730 days remain before we find out.