Corridors of Power: A gentleman's agreement

The Treasury has reneged on a grant for Jerusalem as if the capital were just any old city.

safra square 88 (photo credit: )
safra square 88
(photo credit: )
This is a story of negligence, a distinct lack of professionalism, and a generous amount of cynicism - or what we usually call in these parts a typical Israeli mess. Usually in such cases, which are anything but rare in our society, improvisation bridges the gap between the desired reality and the reality on the ground. Most of the time, thanks to some mixture of local charm and hutzpa, it works. Sometimes it doesn't - and that seems to be the case in this particular situation. Our story begins some four months ago when, not long after he took office, Mayor Nir Barkat had a series of meetings with high-ranking officials at the Treasury to obtain financial support for his far-reaching plans to rehabilitate the city. To put it more simply, Barkat went to the real bosses of the country - namely, the guys from the Treasury - to obtain money to fund his plans. Sources at city hall say the newly elected mayor received a warm welcome and that prospects for his mission were bright. Barkat had a particularly successful meeting with the then head of budgets at the Finance Ministry, Ran Belnikov. Belnikov, who apparently loved what he heard from Barkat regarding his plans for the city, promised to give his backing. Soon after, Barkat - who is anything but a politician (and that's a compliment) - thinking that he had a promise from the Treasury, released the details of his achievements, including the impressive sum of NIS 190 million (up from NIS 95m. last year) for the annual capital grant, And that was only the beginning. Officials at Kikar Safra understood that the sum would ultimately climb higher yet to NIS 250m.! But fortune is a capricious goddess. A few weeks later, Belnikov decided to resign from the Finance Ministry, and it didn't take long before the depth of the mess was discovered. Whether it was a genuine mistake or a sign of the rather problematic way things are sealed in the government, it came to light that there was no written evidence of the agreement between Barkat and Belnikov. The two had made a gentleman's agreement, which in this case turned out to be a total catastrophe. The new head of the Finance Ministry refused to acknowledge Belnikov's promises and announced that the annual grant for the capital would drop to NIS 170m. Before Mayor Barkat and his deputy in charge of municipal finances, David Hadari, could even grasp the complete meaning of this turn of events, they were dealt another blow when the Treasury informed them that Jerusalem would not be exempt from the across-the-board cut in state funding. The bottom line: The initial princely grant of NIS 190m. - with expectations that it would grow to NIS 250m. - suddenly shrank to barely NIS 150m. Someone in the government thought that it was totally appropriate to act as if (as has been the case for years) the capital were just any ordinary city, not the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the jewel of our eyes, the city for which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is ready to confront US President Barack Obama, or just the largest and poorest city in Israel. For the Treasury, Jerusalem is just like any other city. No special grant, no additional budget, nothing. What's more, as a result of various exemptions the municipality is required to grant by law - such as reductions in municipal taxes for churches, foreign representatives, needy families, etc. - it loses close to NIS 500m. every year. But who cares? This is only Jerusalem. We should all be ready to give our lives for the holy city. But when it comes to money, don't push it, say the guys from the Treasury.