Corridors of power

Sometimes, even politicians with overdoses of hutzpah know they have crossed some sort of line.

military funeral 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
military funeral 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Cynicism, dirty deals and a good dose of hutzpah are an integral part of politics, as we all know. But sometimes, even politicians with overdoses of hutzpah can feel ashamed, knowing they have crossed some sort of line. And this is exactly what happened last week at the most recent City Council meeting. A group of bereaved parents came to the meeting, apparently armed solely with the somewhat naive assumption that their mere presence in City Hall would make such an impression on the Council members and so move them that they would let their consciences be their guides and rise above their narrow interests. Have I already said, naive? Naive indeed. On the agenda was a call by City Council opposition councillors Meir Tourjeman and Nir Barkat (both from Jerusalem Will Succeed), proposing that the City Council come to a proper relationship with the Bereaved Parents Association, recognize the decision to move all of its activities, including the official memorial ceremonies, to the Ammunition Hill site, and, of course, finally provide the budgets that the Association needs so badly. As we reported in In Jerusalem ("Fallen From Grace," Oct. 28), relationships between the local chapter of Yad Labanim and the mayor have deteriorated from the day that he assumed office nearly two and a half years ago. Marred by a long line of broken agreements, disagreements and mutual recriminations, the most recent escalation occurred several months ago, when the organization let the mayor know, in writing, that he was no longer welcome at any of their ceremonies or events. And so Jerusalem, the city with the highest number of fallen soldiers, has not been represented in any way at official ceremonies commemorating those soldiers for many months. Yet even given the bad feelings between the mayor and the bereaved parents, the mayor's reaction was astonishing. He accused Tourjeman and Barkat of "making political profit from the blood of the fallen soldiers" and announced that he had decided that he would not even discuss the proposal. But even naive bereaved parents have limits, and they protested. And in a matter of seconds, the City Council hall turned into a free-for-all, the parents, the council members and everyone else screaming, shouting and gesticulating at each other. In despair, some of the parents began to cry. And, seemingly inevitably, a bereaved mother shouted out, "Does the mayor care? After all, he never lost an hour of sleep in anguish worried about one of his sons. Army duty and the soldiers' lives are not part of his world." The rage and pain threatened to get out of control. But the worst was still to come. Apparently realizing that he could not legally simply ignore the proposal, Lupolianski decided to call for a vote. "Who is in favor of removing the proposal from the city council agenda?" And so the issue was reduced to coalition politics. The mayor's coalition is made up of three parties - his own (Yahadut Hatorah), Shas and the National Religious Party (NRP). Only eight of the 11 opposition members were there, but Tourjeman and Barkat still had some hope. One of Lupolianski's deputies left the hall. ("I couldn't bring myself to vote against bereaved parents," he told me later.) At least three other coalition members were missing, and certainly they thought the NRP members would not vote against the parents either. It would be, he hoped, one of those rare occasions when conscience would trump coalition considerations. They were naive, too. Naive and wrong. David Hadari, Yair Gabbay and Mina Fenton, three of the four NRP city council members, have all served in the army. But in what might be considered a moment of truth, they voted with the coalition. The issue was removed from the agenda. It was painful to watch and listen to the parents' reactions. At first it seemed as though they didn't understand, and then, when they did understand, as though they could not bear the realization that the mayor had rejected their request. Two of the parents nearly collapsed, and others ran to bring them water and to help them sit down. Others came as close to the mayor as the guards would permit. Some of the senior clerks, in the offices and in the hallway, stood by with tears in their eyes. And as for me, one mother's words keep echoing in my ears. She seemed calmer than the others as she said quietly, "My son died for the mayor's safety, too, but he doesn't care. Does that mean that my son died for nothing?"