Barkat invites haredim to join J'lem coalition

Mayor-elect says he'll maintain status quo; new city council reflects swing away from Orthodox.

Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Nir Barkat not only became Jerusalem mayor with a convincing nine-percent victory margin over Meir Porush, but also has a new city council that is not dominated by haredi parties. In a dramatic turnaround, the Jerusalem city council will be controlled by a secular and modern religious majority, municipal election results Wednesday showed. The realignment in the makeup of the 31-member city council means that Barkat does not need the haredi parties in his city coalition. Nevertheless, Barkat, who spent the last five and a half years as the head of a minority secular opposition in a haredi-run city hall, said Wednesday that he planned to invite haredi parties to join his broad-based coalition, which will include the modern Orthodox parties and a coterie of small independent parties. "I believe that the right thing to do is to invite the haredi parties to join my coalition," Barkat said at a post-election press conference at Jerusalem's King David Hotel. He added that a way should be found to include all parties elected to the city council to join in the coalition on the basis of his vision for the economic betterment of the city. "I respect the will of all the people of Jerusalem and I do not reject any one of the parties in the city council," he said. One out of three Jewish residents of Jerusalem is haredi. The haredi parties, which suffered a double blow in losing both the mayor's seat and control of the city council, voiced readiness on Wednesday to join Barkat's city council. "As far as we are concerned this issue is open and we are ready to sit down and negotiate," said Shas outgoing Deputy Mayor Eli Simchayof. An official with outgoing Mayor Uri Lupolianski's United Torah Judaism Party voiced similar sentiments, although their entry into a Barkat coalition is expected to be more difficult than that of Shas, since they were the ones who lost the mayoral elections. The 180-degree changeover in the city council, which will be made up of 10 parties, gives Barkat a lot of flexibility in forming a majority in the council. According to near-final elections results, the mayor-elect could easily attain a majority in the council without the two haredi parties, UTJ and Shas, even though his own party garnered only six seats in the council, the second largest after the UTJ. The new makeup of the city council is nearly the antithesis to its predecessor, where the haredim had total control of council proceedings and Barkat was essentially powerless to thwart the outgoing mayor's moves. Barkat is expected to begin negotiating with the various parties next week and will officially take office within three weeks.