Corridors of Power: The silent ones

Why do some members of the city council never speak at council meetings?

safra city hall 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
safra city hall 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In one of his most sarcastic but less-known pieces, writer S.Y. Agnon imagined the "Beit Siftotayim" (The House of Lips). Long before it was ever created, Agnon imagined a place where our glorious pioneer fathers could not stop talking because they had become free Zionist citizens. In Arabic the word is magliss, which means a place to sit - and this may provide more than a hint to the origins of the current conflict - but that's another story. The local city council was created in the image of a parliament as a place where elected people gather and speak. All this introduction is intended to tell you, dear readers, that when our 31 elected citizens who rule the city convene in the city council, almost all they are expected to do is speak. Most of them do. Quite a bit. But a considerable number of them don't. Shlomo Bresca and Yair Lari, Moshe Lock and Avraham Feiner, Yaakov Shnur and Shlomo Daitch. These are the silent ones, members of the coalition, from the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties. Unlike their colleagues, they hardly ever speak up in city council meetings. "They were sent to the city council for specific reasons," explains a senior member of the coalition. (We might note that he himself is very talkative and very well-regarded in the haredi world.) "They represent this stream or that rabbi from various sectors of the haredi parties." Our analyst then adds, "Usually, when they arrive at a city council meeting, they have no idea what it's about or what they are supposed to do, let alone think that they might represent anything other than their own sectorial interest." At least in one case, it would appear, our cultural interpreter was correct. Upon arrival at the city council, immediately after the last elections, Corridors of Power asked Councilman Lock, the newest representative of the Gur hassidic sect, what his preferred issues would be. His response was telling. "I am here because the Admor (head of the sect) told me to be here. My only plan is to avoid becoming involved and I took an oath not to talk to the press." And that was the last time that I or any of my colleagues ever heard his voice. His predecessor, Rabbi Haim Miller, who is a very talkative politician, explains. "What can I do? A large portion of the new city council members from the haredi parties act as if they were members of a monastery who took an oath of silence." Perhaps silence is becoming an important part of the basic qualifications of our city councillors, since silent and discreet politicians can also be found in the ranks of Shas. According to a colleague from Shas, Shlomo Bresca, a very esteemed young city councillor, "has never asked for the floor in a city council meeting." Remaining cautiously anonymous, the colleague adds, "He is very young, only 38 years old... and he has said more than once that if not for the decision of his patron, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, he wouldn't have dreamed of running for city council." Yair Lari, who is close to Shas leader Eli Yishai, is also silent. But in contrast to Bresca, our commentator informs us, "Lari understands how politics works and he likes it very much. But discretion is his second name - we don't even know what he does for a living." Shnur, one of the oldest members of the council, is the representative of Chabad (Lubavitch). Our wily commentator notes that, "Since we all know what the lita'im (Lithuanian Jews) think of Chabad, you can easily understand what his status is." Shnur may be silent, but this writer still remembers that Shnur was the only member of the council who joined an organized tour of the security barrier around the city two years ago. Tersely, he explained that he "thought that he should see for himself what the fuss was all about." In the previous council, in accordance with rotation agreements between the different factions of the haredi parties, we even had a city council member who didn't speak Hebrew. He served - in Yiddish - for a very short period and left in the same manner as he arrived: silently and discreetly. The heads of the parties, who have been around for a long time and are already vice mayors (and so receive a salary), are used to the way things work. They know how to sell a good story, they know how to handle journalists and they know the rules of the game. "Obviously, some of them have learned to like the job and the honor it brings them," our interlocutor contends. "But others were sent by the rabbis because they weren't shpitz (stars) at the yeshiva. They are here for a specific reason: to preserve their rabbis' interests. "At the least, they are honest," he concludes. "They don't try to peddle the usual stuff about 'serving the citizens.'"