A kingdom for your vote - elections finally come to Jerusalem

The last time elections were held in some cases goes back 20 years, even though everyone seems to agree that it’s time for new elections.

GINOT HA’IR local council head Elan Ezrahi. (photo credit: Courtesy)
GINOT HA’IR local council head Elan Ezrahi.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was the vision of Jerusalem’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek to have local councils in every neighborhood representing the needs and will of residents, and to alleviate the burden on the various administrative departments at the municipality. Thus, in the 1980s, the first local councils (minhalim kehilatim) were created. They operated through a newly formed subsidiary company on behalf of the city.
Over the years, the independence of local council board members caused tension between them and the city’s mayors. This continued until the early 2000s, when the subsidiary company was dismantled, and the councils became part of Safra Square, and as a result, easier to control. But the local councils didn’t disappear, and today, most of the 28 councils – including in the Arab neighborhoods – provide services that involve such things as planning, construction, environment and arts and culture.
The local councils function based on the work of residents. As a result, elections to the boards of these councils (which are not statutory and are operating as nonprofit associations) are essential. However, the last time elections were held in some cases goes back 20 years, even though everyone seems to agree that it’s time for new elections. Despite the fact that this was a condition for the coalition agreement between Degel Hatorah and Mayor Moshe Lion in December 2019, there still have not been new elections.
This week, city council member Arieh King (United Jerusalem Party), who holds the local councils portfolio, announced that there will be elections within the next few months. The first step King needs to take is to obtain an amendment to the terms of the councils’ rules, to disconnect elections for the local council boards from general or municipal elections, a condition added, nobody knows why, by former mayor Nir Barkat.
If King succeeds in this endeavor, the first round for at least eight different councils will be held in June. King said that elections for all 28 councils will take place before the end of 2020, and pledged that “these will be fully democratic and free elections.”
Elan Ezrahi, the president of the Ginot Ha'Ir local council that covers seven neighborhoods (German and Greek Colonies, Rehavia, Talbiyeh, Katamon, Nayot and Rassco) sounds less eager, at least until some basic rules are clarified.
“If we go for general elections in these councils, then I am totally opposed,” explained Ezrahi, a native of Rehavia and author of a book on Jerusalem. “General elections mean that anybody can decide to run, and with a good campaign can be elected to the board, while activists and benevolent [residents] who have been dedicated for years to the needs of the neighborhood and the residents will be excluded. This is wrong and should not be enabled.”
Ezrahi, who has decided not to run again after 15 years of service, said that elections should ensure that those who are elected come from among those who have been involved over the years.
Another point of view is that of Deputy Mayor Israel Kellerman (Degel Hatorah), who has pushed for elections for years. Kellerman says the elections are needed to reflect demographic changes that have occurred over the years.
“In Ramot,” he said, “haredim [ultra-Orthodox] are today 80% of the population, but we only get 20% of the services we have the right to get. This has to change. There is no point in dividing the local council into two sections, with the result that haredim get fewer services than seculars.”
Kellerman added that the same goes for Kiryat Yovel, whose demography has changed over the years. “There is no reason to ignore the needs of the haredim who live there. These elections should represent them and their rights.”