Corridors of Power: Association game

The dispute between the mayor and the parents’ association head is far from being resolved.

Parents Association 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/ Illustrative Photo)
Parents Association 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/ Illustrative Photo)
Last week, a check for NIS 65,000, sent by the municipality to the parents’ association, seemed to signal a truce between Mayor Nir Barkat and Etti Binyamin, president of the association, who are currently at odds. A closer look at the facts, however, reveals that peace is still a long way off. One could almost say, “What else is new?”
During his five-and-a-half years as head of the city council opposition, Barkat managed to gather around him quite a lot of people, many of them holders of official positions in this city – people dedicated to finding ways to improve life in Jerusalem. People who desperately wanted to keep young families and singles here and to strengthen the non-haredi population saw in him their last hope and stood by him. The fact that Barkat – a wealthy man who left all his businesses behind to devote himself to this city and its residents – agreed to remain on the city council despite his failure in the 2003 elections earned him a lot of respect from a lot of people who hadn’t taken him very seriously before. Six years later, it was the support of those very people that brought him to victory in the 2008 elections.
After a hard-nosed politician with his eye on the Knesset and then a haredi mayor who, despite all his sincere efforts, failed to convince either his constituency or the rest of the residents that he could be more than a representative of the haredi community, the promising young, successful, secular but not anti-religious candidate became mayor. Barkat was convinced, right from the start, that anyone who shared his ideas about the needs of the city would automatically support him and follow him blindly.
Well, not everybody. Some didn’t agree with him at all, while others didn’t particularly disagree but still didn’t want to become just “blind followers.” So far, hardly anything that could or should raise any resentment or urge for revenge. Except, perhaps, for one case: Etti Binyamin, the (four times elected) president of the Jerusalem district of the parents’ association.
Binyamin has never tried to position herself as a supporter of Barkat. In fact, say quite a few observers of local politics, she was rather reserved toward him since he first appeared on the local scene. Binyamin did not appreciate the several instances in which parents and their children were invited by the opposition to the monthly city council plenary meetings to protest against the municipality’s decision on education issues. The idea to invite parents and students to city hall wasn’t only Barkat’s idea – Meretz president Pepe Alalu supported it and participated actively.
Following a specific instance in which young students had been invited by Barkat to demonstrate at a city council meeting, Binyamin, who thought it was inappropriate to use children that way, wrote a harsh letter to Barkat who, while still in opposition, sued her for libel for damages of NIS 100,000. Almost three years later, the case is still in the magistrate’s court.
After that, the two did not speak to each other. And when Barkat became mayor, the tension between them reached new heights. First, the mayor expressed doubt regarding her official position. Then he avoided inviting her to the meetings of the education commission over which he presides, and subsequently to the private meetings with other parents, who challenged Binyamin’s presidency.
Later on, he refused to give the association over which she presides its annual funding. At that point, municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio – another intimate foe of the mayor’s – announced that it was illegal, and the money (NIS 65,000) arrived last week at Binyamin’s office. True, it was only the funds for 2009 and the money for 2010 is still pending – but still.
At first the feeling was that perhaps the “war” was over, but it proved to be too early for optimism.
Almost at the same time, Binyamin received an official letter from Kikar Safra informing her that she had to immediately vacate the offices her association uses in one of the municipality’s properties in the city center. The official reason? The premises were needed for emergency social cases.
“So what?” says Binyamin.
“We are entitled, according to the local rules, to offices, to be given an alternative location.
Otherwise, it is clearly a personal vendetta against me.”
According to a municipal spokesman, the building the parents’ association works from now is needed for emergency cases by the Social Welfare Department.
“The Jerusalem Municipality is acting according to the legal adviser’s instructions, which stipulate that the parents’ association may use that building until the end of the school year. The association should, like any other association in the city, apply to the municipality to ask for a location to work from.”