Activist in City Hall

Meir Margalit is back on the council - and this time he's in the coalition.

meir margalit (photo credit: Courtesy)
meir margalit
(photo credit: Courtesy)
City council member Meir Margalit is not really a new face at Kikar Safra, where he has already served as a representative of Meretz. Before the end of his term, he had to resign for personal reasons. As an opposition member, Margalit didn't receive a salary, so he had to quit to get himself a job. In 2002, when he had to leave, Margalit admitted that he made the decision "with a broken heart" and was convinced he would never be able to serve his constituency again. Now back on the city council, Margalit is a member of the coalition, a situation he admits he is not so familiar with. Margalit was born in 1952 in Buenos Aires and made aliya with an ideological group (garin) of young Betar members in 1972. He joined an IDF Nahal unit and went straight to the Sinai, where he served at the military outpost of Dikla. He was wounded in the Yom Kippur War. It was during his hospitalization and rehabilitation that he began to alter his political views from those of the right-leaning Betar movement and ultimately joined the Left. After years of involvement in almost every struggle of the Left in the country, Margalit today is field coordinator of the Israel Committee against House Demolitions, an organization dedicated to bringing help and support to Palestinians whose houses are targeted for demolition by the Israeli authorities. But Margalit says his activities are not only focused on Palestinian rights; a large part of his activism is dedicated to social issues, especially among underprivileged families in Jerusalem. "Becoming part of a coalition that is not particularly leftist was not so simple for me," admits Margalit, but adds that to, his pleasant surprise, Mayor Nir Barkat's attitude toward him is more than fair, considering that Margalit's call not to vote for him was not a secret. "The result is, of course, that I was not offered really important portfolios, at least not those I was interested in - like the human rights issues in the city - but things are honest, and the vibe between me and the mayor is good, and I have reason to believe that in time, even the portfolio issues might improve." Another good word that Margalit has to say about the new administration at Kikar Safra concerns the interaction between the elected officials and the managing staff installed by Barkat. "The disdain expressed by the employees toward the elected officials, which began in [mayor Ehud] Olmert's days, has reached a critical point, but at least now we have someone to turn to - chief of staff Michal Shalem, who is attentive to our requests and, above all, is very efficient. Believe me, that's an important change for the better." Margalit says that nothing will convince him to drop the issue of house demolitions and that there is no way things can improve as long as the Arab residents do not obtain building permits. Margalit adds that a kind of "pilot" plan for Beit Hanina could turn out to be a solution for additional Arab neighborhoods with the same problem. (According to the plan, the demolitions will cease and the residents will stop illegal construction, though a second step, allowing permits, is still not planned.) But the Arab residents' problems may not be the biggest headache for city council member Margalit. According to some of his close friends, Margalit is already feeling he has turned into a "hostage" of his own party and of the mayor. Margalit says he is committed to his party's leader, Pepe Allalu, who has become, for the first time in his political career, a high-ranking member of the coalition (Allalu is deputy mayor, in charge of culture). But Margalit admits that if there is no improvement in the municipality's treatment of the issues he cares about, he might be trapped in an "impossible situation - perhaps leaving the coalition, even the party." But he is quick to add that he is still very far from that, "Firstly out of respect for our voters, who wanted us to be part of this coalition." Regarding Barkat's leadership, Margalit sounds surprisingly supportive. "He has a deep understanding of economics, and on a few issues he has already moved things in the right direction, such as education. But I am concerned that he is too stuck in this neo-liberal position. I believe there are some issues, such as poverty in Jerusalem, that cannot be addressed only through these macroeconomic views."