Candid candidates

Jerusalem MKs speak out on demographics, the city's status - and, of course, politics.

In less than a week, Israel will go to the polls to vote. For the residents of Jerusalem, it might seem like déjà vu, coming some four months after the mayoral elections. In addition to the fact that Jerusalem's status and its future will be at the heart of the election issues, quite a few of the candidates for prime minister are local - from Jerusalem proper or one of the satellite towns. So what would be more natural than to see if they are true representatives of their city (they are, but don't expect too much), what they can do to improve the city's status (not much), and how they would react to a possible division of the city (well, it depends). Also, quite a few of our candidates for the 18th Knesset have been city council members, so they know a fair amount about the city's most pressing needs. Most of them are well aware of the city's specific problems beyond political opinions: more funding, infrastructure, jobs and affordable housing. They disagree on the subject of a divided Jerusalem, but on one issue they all concur: Jerusalem is the heart of the nation and deserves more, much more. Still, the major test is in the voting, and that's where things become a little more complex. MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) says that it is not a matter of personal choice but a part of a party line. He explains that in his party, the status of Jerusalem is a top priority. MK Colette Avital (Labor), who chairs the lobby for Jerusalem, believes that every MK has the right and the power to push forward issues he or she believes in. She says that MKs have a certain margin within which to act, despite the party's policies, hence her activities on major issues such as restitution for Holocaust survivors and rights for new immigrants (she heads the Committee for Aliya). Name: MK Reuven Rivlin Age: 69 Residence: Jerusalem Marital status: married, four children Party: Likud Party's poll position: 28-29 seats Place on list: No. 4 Born in Jerusalem in 1939, Reuven Rivlin received his law degree from the Hebrew University. He sat on the city council when Teddy Kollek was mayor. Since 1988 Rivlin has been an MK, serving for a time as Knesset speaker. As a former member of the Jerusalem city council, do you consider yourself a representative of the city in the Knesset? I am first a Jew, then a Jerusalemite, then an Israeli and only then a Likud member. Does that make you the perfect ambassador? My family, one of the largest in "Yerushalayim de Lita," which is Vilna, came to the Land of Israel in 1809. They all came directly to Jerusalem, and in 1856 were among the first to build a neighborhood outside the Old City walls, known as Nahalat Shiva. So Jerusalem has always been at the center of your family's interest? In my family, we have always been connected to Jerusalem's welfare and future, from the mystical and political perspectives. What kind of policy did you conduct during your term on the city council? I served during the 1970s, in Teddy's [Kollek's] days. And although I was in the opposition, I dare say that I was his favorite, perhaps even the one whom he secretly saw as his heir to the job. I was in favor of building the new neighborhoods after the Six Day War; Teddy was against it, but he did build them, and today it is clear that it was the right thing to do. And in the Knesset? I was always afraid that Jerusalem would be sacrificed, so I was on guard all the time. I was a member of [Binyamin] Netanyahu's government when his finance minister, Dan Meridor, approved the special grant for the city, some NIS 636 million. What should be done to ameliorate Jerusalem's status, especially in the face of research predicting that Arabs will constitute 50 percent of the city's population within 30 years? I think we should invest more in east Jerusalem. Not only because it is the right message to convey - meaning that we mean to stay here - but also because Jerusalem is a microcosm of Israeli society in which coexistence between Jews and Arabs is possible. I believe that taking care of and improving the situation in east Jerusalem, including the infrastructure, is not only the right thing to do but also the right Zionist thing to do. What's more, we should dismantle the refugee camps and provide the residents with proper housing. Regarding demographics - well, it is above all a numbers game, so we could annex some of the satellite towns and the problem is solved. Name: Nachman Shai Age: 62 Residence: Mevaseret Zion Marital status: married Party: Kadima Party's poll position: 23-25 seats Place on list: No. 18 For Israelis, Nachman Shai will probably remain forever the man who succeeded in keeping them calm during the first Gulf War in his capacity as spokesman for the IDF. Shai, who recently stepped into the political arena, was born in Jerusalem and spent most of his life here. He now lives in Mevaseret Zion with his family. He was senior vice president of the United Jewish Communities and director-general of UJC Israel. Would you define yourself as a general representative of the citizens of the country or rather as a Jerusalem emissary? Absolutely as an emissary on a mission for Jerusalem. In my opinion, Jerusalem needs all the support it can get. The voices that would represent it and its needs in the absence of those who are no longer here in our parliament to speak on its behalf. What are the advantages of being an MK to help the city? There are many advantages. This is the perfect place to set things in motion. After all, the bottom line is money, funding. Where else can you get it if not by putting pressure on the government? There are so many examples. For years there has been talk about moving national institutions to Jerusalem - but nothing happens, though it is crucial. Today, you can't really make an appointment in Jerusalem - everything is in Tel Aviv; it is a disaster for the city. My plans if I'm inside is to work hard on these issues. I know what happened to this city; I have lived here almost all my life. For example, I plan to become very active in the Lobby for Jerusalem - perhaps even chair it. What is your position on the demographic issue? Arabs might become the majority within less than 30 years, and haredim may become half the Jewish population by 2030. How do you see the future? It's a matter of the growth and decline of communities. Some grow, others decline, mostly because the people leave. It's not only that. The third part - the non-Arab and non-Orthodox - are also, for the most part, very poor. These are the people who came here in the 1950s and haven't made it until now. So the problem is vast, and it needs urgent attention. And this is also a very right-wing city. I think all these issues have to be taken care of. We have to learn to live with the Arab population; we cannot ignore it or its needs. I am very concerned by the radical nature of certain segments of the Jewish residents here. What is your position regarding a possible division of the city, regardless of the Kadima party line? I don't foresee any real division of this city. Perhaps some remote Arab neighborhood here or there will be handed over, but basically I don't believe this city can or should be divided again. Israel has to say it loud and clear: Jerusalem is a Jewish place. But we have to bear in mind that it has a price: The Arab population should not be neglected. Name: MK Colette Avital Age: 68 Residence: Jerusalem Marital status: not married Party: Labor Party's poll position: 14-17 seats Place on list: No. 19 Born in Romania in 1940, Colette Avital make aliya in 1950. She joined the Foreign Ministry in 1960 and, after a prestigious career as a diplomat, became an MK in 1999. She was a candidate in the last presidential election, losing out to Shimon Peres. An ardent champion of the rights of Holocaust survivors, she challenges the banks and Finance Ministry in an effort to help improve their rights and conditions. Avital speaks seven languages and has a master's degree in public administration. Do you consider yourself an emissary of Jerusalem to the Knesset? Perhaps not in the formal way, but I certainly feel and act like someone who lives here and sees Jerusalem as the capital and cares a lot about it. I am also serving a second term as chairwoman of the lobby for Jerusalem and, as such, I have a lot to do to improve the city's status and situation. That is something that I have done in the past, when I was a diplomat at the Foreign Ministry. Tell us more about it. Take, for example, the fact that Jerusalem is not considered to be the capital of our state by most of the countries in the world, including the US. There's a lot that needs to be done about that. Jerusalem has to be strengthened - economically, culturally and in any aspect that would affirm its position as a capital. Jerusalem has to be put "on the map." Have you been involved in such efforts? Yes, of course. I organized a conference on the economy of Jerusalem in the Knesset. I have promoted and participated in programs to propose special professional training for residents, including haredim. In that regard, I must say that I have found real partners in two Shas MKs. There's a genuine need for the middle class in the hi-tech professions, and it is the responsibility of the government to offer such training. There's a lot to do. I believe that only by taking action can we make some real improvements. There's no use sitting and complaining - we have to do something. What is your position regarding the division of Jerusalem? I belong to the pragmatic side. We don't have to go for a physical separation but rather find a way for the population in an Arab neighborhood to feel it is theirs and for us to concentrate on the Jewish neighborhoods. We don't need to own places like Walaja or the like - only the Jewish neighborhoods should be part of the Jewish capital. Strictly Arab neighborhoods are not part of our historical heritage. What do you think about the trend of residents leaving the city for the center of the country? I am certainly not part of the trend that sees Jerusalem as an irrelevant place, despite the fact that almost all my friends have left. My belief is that you make a place worth living in - it doesn't just come like that from the sky. To become relevant, a city has to act like one. I am certain that Jerusalem has the potential to become a city in which people can earn a good living, just like Tel Aviv, and can enjoy culture and commerce and the best conditions. It's up to all of us. Name: MK David Rotem Age: 60 Residence: Jerusalem Marital status: married, five children Party: Israel Beiteinu Party's poll position: 15-18 seats Place on list: No. 8 Born in Jerusalem to a well-respected family, David Rotem studied law at the Hebrew University. He became an MK in the current Knesset. A resident of Efrat, which he helped establish, he has been active for the past 25 years in promoting the installation of Jewish families in settlements across Judea and Samaria and worked as a legal adviser for Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria. Would you describe yourself as an emissary of the residents of Jerusalem in the Knesset? I wouldn't say that. I would say that I am a true emissary of the city, not really of its residents - the members of the city council are much better positioned for that. But Jerusalem is the heart of all of us - the heart of Zionism, of Judaism, of the Jewish people around the world. So in that context, yes, I am an emissary. As an MK, do you take it upon yourself to represent the city's needs? Yes, I do. For example, when I visit communities in the US, I always tell them that we had our own "DC" long before their "Washington, DC." It's very simple: For us, it is Jerusalem, DC (David's City). Are there other ways you can help the city from your position? First and foremost, in promoting laws in the Knesset on various issues such as housing, industry and jobs, culture and, above all, the status of the city as the capital of the State of Israel and capital of the Jewish people. These are issues that can be dealt with and promoted from the Knesset - and that is what I am dedicated to doing. Are you worried by the recent forecast of losing the city's Jewish majority to the Arab residents or the haredim becoming 50% of the city's population? Of course, I am aware of this. We have to strengthen the Zionist-Jewish part of the city's residents. We have to bring in more industry, more culture, more in numbers and also affordable housing to enable more young families to move in. What is your personal position on the issue of a possible division of the city in the framework of peace negotiations? Jerusalem is not part of any negotiations of any kind. For me, it is totally out of the question - you would not negotiate on the left or right chamber of your heart, would you? Name: MK Tzvia Greenfield Age: 63 Residence: Jerusalem Marital status: married, five children Party: Meretz Party's poll position: 5-6 seats Place on list: No. 8 An MK since November 2008, Tzvia Greenfield, who grew up in a haredi family, has written books about the internal politics of haredi society. Outspoken against the exemption of haredim from military service, she established the School of Peace and Democracy to promote these ideas among her fellow haredim. She is also a board member of B'Tselem and one of the signatories of the Geneva accords As an MK, will you see yourself first as an emissary of Jerusalem and its residents? Of course, I will be first and foremost a true representative of the general public who sent me to the Knesset, providing that I make it at all. But certainly there will always be a soft spot in my heart for my identity as a Jerusalemite and my fellow residents - it is a part of me. What issues most concern you regarding the city's situation? There are many: the lack of affordable housing; the urgent need for a renewal of active and attractive life, especially in the downtown area; the need to provide viable solutions for the young generation; and perhaps the most urgent, to assure the future of higher education; and, of course, to create an environment for true pluralism. Do you see predictions that within 30 years Arabs will constitute a majority of Jerusalem population and 50% of Jews will be haredi as a threat? Will you promote decisions on these issues in the Knesset? If haredim continue to live outside the society and refuse to bear their share of participation - in employment, in military service or national service - then, yes, Jerusalem is threatened and its future is not clear. If the government had to vote on dividing Jerusalem, where would you stand? Of course, I would support such a decision. It is the only sane, moral and right decision to make on this issue. But I am concerned that the new neighborhood to be constructed close to Ma'aleh Adumim, as announced this week, will seriously jeopardize such a move. What will you concentrate on if elected to the Knesset? Since all the other Meretz members are traditionally involved in environmental issues, I will let them keep on with that and will focus on education, security and peace and, of course, social justice. Name: Uri Maklev Age: 52 Residence: Jerusalem Marital status: married, five children Party: United Torah Judaism Party's poll position: 5-6 seats Place on list: No. 4 Born in Jerusalem in 1957, Uri Maklev is a rabbi and served as a city council member and the deputy mayor of Jerusalem. In the Knesset, which do you represent more - Jerusalem or your party's constituency? Once a Jerusalemite, always a Jerusalemite. Jerusalem is not just another place to live in, it's a lifelong involvement. Especially if, as in my case, it comes after serving a long term on the city council and being deputy mayor - you can't really dissociate yourself from this city and what is at stake here. Now that you can compare, is it better to be an MK than a city council member to help Jerusalem? Yes and no. For example, when it comes to finances and budgets, then, yes, it does matter. Being in the Knesset enables us to obtain more. For example, when you request something from the Finance Ministry, it makes a difference if you are a member of the city council or an MK. And that is where I personally feel more than others, perhaps, that I am in fact an emissary, that I am on duty. Another example would be major projects. From the Knesset, I can't influence the state of the roads in the city or the amount of money needed for that. But I have more clout on larger issues - the light rail, for example. When approaching the Treasury, it's easier when you're an MK. What is your position regarding the demographic issues in the city? Leading research institutes forecast that within less than 30 years Arabs will be the majority and haredim will constitute 50% of the Jewish population (they are now 34%). And what can you do as an MK that you can't achieve as a city council member? Regarding the haredi demographics, let me say this: We, the haredim, are the ones who suffer the most from the emigration of young families from Jerusalem. Where do you think all the people in Betar Illit and Modi'in Illit came from? We suffer terribly from high prices and a shortage of housing construction. We don't really like to live in secular surroundings - it's just that if we get a good bargain there, that's what we take. If there were more construction and expansion plans in our neighborhoods, things would be easier. Is that something you have more chance to obtain in the Knesset than on the city council? Of course, this is what we are planning to request from the next government: more housing projects for young families, more construction for all - religious and non-religious alike. We care about everyone. What is your position regarding the Arab demographics or the possible division of the city in the framework of a peace negotiation? The only answer I know is that we must bring in more families, more Jews. Regarding a division, we will act according to our rabbis' and sages' decisions and instructions. But certainly for us, Jerusalem is a city that is and should stay united forever. Name: Nissim Ze'ev Age: 57 Residence: Jerusalem Marital status: married Party: Shas Party's poll position: 10 seats Place on list: No. 9 Born in Jerusalem in 1951, Nissim Ze'ev has been an MK since 1999. He sat on the city council and served as Teddy Kollek's deputy mayor. A rabbi and a cantor, Ze'ev is vehemently opposed to holding the gay pride parade in Jerusalem and to the use of the Western Wall for any activity other than Orthodox prayer. He promotes the idea of vocational training for young haredim. Would you describe yourself as a representative of Jerusalem in the Knesset? Of course, Jerusalem is the heart and the core of our life here. Jerusalem is above everything. So I would say I am an emissary of Jerusalem, but I also serve all the citizens of Israel. You served for a while as a city council member and deputy mayor. Can an MK do more for the sake of the city? I would say that on financial issues, the influence of an MK, especially if he has the whole party behind him, can be stronger. As a resident of this city, what do you think are its most important needs? There's a lot to develop here. We need more affordable housing, we need to enlarge the construction plans in both the eastern and western parts of the city, and we need room for more Jews to live here - it is essential. Some of the peace plans include the eventual division of Jerusalem. What would your position be in such a case? We have to read the map carefully. Wherever we retreat from will become a foothold for Hamas, it's clear. They shouldn't get anything more than a kind of autonomy, something they already have, anyway. Jerusalem is ours, but it is also a security issue. How do you react to the forecasts regarding the demographic changes expected here for the Arab population and haredi society? All these stories about haredim not working are false. Most of our constituency, Shas, are working people. The yeshiva students among us would hardly account for one seat in the Knesset [Shas has 12 seats]. Regarding the Ashkenazi haredim, if they could get more professional training, things would improve; but most of them already work - you know, little jobs here and there, but they work. If you were consulted, what would you recommend to improve the city's situation? We need to develop something else instead of hi-tech, which has failed. Affordable housing to increase the Jewish population. And, above all, to preserve its special Jewish character: I know of people who are totally secular but still don't want to have restaurants and coffee shops in their neighborhood open on Shabbat. We should listen to them.