Against all odds

The sole city council opposition member is making his presence felt.

George Bernard Shaw used to say that everything - or perhaps everyone - has a price. Everything, including a strong coalition built for the benefit of the city and its residents. In this particular case, the real surprise is not what the new mayor is ready to pay for his coalition - he has no choice and it is, at least for the moment, still a reasonable price - but rather who is representing what. During his term as leader of the opposition, Mayor Nir Barkat often made a point of stressing the importance of listening to the needs of the residents and making sure that the administration of the municipality took those needs into account. One of those issues was former mayor Uri Lupolianski and his haredi coalition's opposition to having the Carta parking lot (under the Mamilla Alrov Mall) be open on Shabbat. During the time they served on the city council, the bid to open the parking lot on Shabbat was an issue raised by Meretz leader Pepe Alalu, as well as Barkat himself. Ten days ago Alalu, now deputy mayor, tried to put the issue back on the agenda. The result? The Carta parking lot still remains closed on Shabbat - apparently for a long time to come. Now let's take a look at how and why it ended up that way. At first, it seems that Barkat really wanted to open it. Both Barkat and Alalu knew, of course, that the religious parties would react negatively. They expected most of the opposition to come from the haredi representatives who, after all, desperately needed to take some "action" to prove to their constituencies that they were still relevant and would fight fiercely to defend Shabbat. Nonetheless, in Barkat's circle it was believed that the mayor would achieve his objective. As for Alalu and Meretz, they could use this opportunity to show that even as part of a coalition that included Orthodox and haredi members, they were still the champions of freedom and the secular residents. Meanwhile, the haredim, opposing a police request to open the parking lot and citing as an excuse their position as the weakest members of the coalition, could say they had no choice but to concede after putting up a heroic struggle. So everybody was satisfied, until city council member Meir Turgeman, the sole member of the opposition, decided that he too cared about Shabbat and presented a motion stating that another solution should be found for the parking problem. (The Carta parking lot partly belongs to the Municipality and thus comes under the public working laws, which forbid work on Shabbat.) Turgeman's proposal immediately put the haredim and the Habayit Hayehudi Party in a precarious situation. How could they explain to their rabbis that they were prepared to violate Shabbat while Turgeman, though an observant Jew but not representing any religious party, was not willing to do so? Turgeman told In Jerusalem that he received phone calls from prominent rabbis - both Ashkenazi and from Shas - trying to find out what the police really requested. A spokesman for the Jerusalem police confirmed to IJ what Turgeman already knew: Their request was that only the relevant committee at Kikar Safra propose solutions to the parking problems - not specifically through the Carta parking lot. In the end, the proposal (to open the Carta parking lot on Shabbat) was removed from the city council agenda. And Meretz? Well, it will perhaps find another occasion to serve its constituency. On one issue at least, deputy mayor David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi) achieved some success. As chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, he managed to approve a decision to provide NIS 2 million for the construction and restoration of synagogues in the city for 2009. In a gesture of generosity, Hadari made it clear that the rule will apply to religious Zionist and haredi synagogues. For those of you who are wondering if Conservative or Reform synagogues are included, the answer is no. Don't push it - there's a limit to prices to be paid, even in politics. In another incident orchestrated by Turgeman, here's an example of how to turn a non-story into a scandal. Upon taking office in Kikar Safra, Barkat announced that he had a totally different view of how the mayor's chambers should function. To implement his vision, he ordered renovations, which are now nearing completion. The budget - NIS 850,000 - was approved by the Finance Committee (in a session open to the public as promised during the campaign) and hasn't been increased since. But Barkat - or someone in his circle - made an error of judgment. They forbade anyone to enter the department that is being renovated. This raised a lot of suspicion and gossip, including a report on Channel 2 this week. Now Barkat and his assistants are busy trying to convince everyone that they are not covering the walls on the sixth floor with gold, but who can resist speculating on such a potentially juicy story?