Corridors of Power: Things you see from here

In opposition, Nir Barkat often found himself defending municipal attorney Yossi Havilio. Now that he is in office -well, things have changed.

Barkat press conference 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Barkat press conference 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
In one of her most famous songs, Israeli singer Yehudit Ravitz says that "things you see from here, you don't see from there." "Corridors" doesn't know whether Mayor Nir Barkat is a fan of the diva or not, but one of his recent decisions suggests that Ravitz's maxim certainly holds true for him. During his almost six years as leader of the opposition at city hall, one of Barkat's missions was to defend municipal attorney Yossi Havilio, whose legal positions didn't always suit former mayor Lupolianski's ideas and agenda. One of Lupolianski's solutions in such a case was to present a different legal opinion, one he would ask for from an outside attorney that would conveniently correspond with his views. And here we are, almost a year after the changing of the guard at Kikar Safra, and Havilio's position doesn't fit in with one particular issue, and the city council is asked to approve a different position based on a private attorney's legal opinion obtained by the mayor. So far, it sounds like a rather delicate and problematic issue. Would Mayor Barkat, who has carved transparency and obedience to the law on his platform, indulge himself in such a matter? Is he seeing things differently than he did when he was in the opposition? Well, yes and no. Yes, because there's no question about it: Barkat did seek legal opinion other than the one presented by Havilio. No, because he didn't do it to "fix" internal political issues or to benefit his own constituency - something, once you're elected to the highest position, you're not supposed to do anymore. Here's the story: It is no secret that Barkat is trying, together with his decision to open the Karta parking lot on Shabbat, to reach some understanding with the haredi community. Naïve or not, this is what he is striving to achieve. It is being done through some goodwill gestures, such as a visit to one of the Admorim in Mea She'arim (which ended up with a hostile attack by some haredi hooligans on his vehicle) and, more recently, a decision to increase the amount of municipal funding for some haredi schools. Barkat is very cautious to approve such gestures only in cases where the schools can prove they include the Education Ministry's curriculum; but still, we're talking about schools that belong to the private stream. The municipality has to hand over at least 75% of those schools' budgets but has the right to decide under certain circumstances to add to this minimum required. The municipality has ruled that only schools that receive more than 75% of what officially recognized schools obtain from the state will be entitled to an additional sum from the municipality. High-ranking officials at Kikar Safra say that this is a de facto discrimination of the Arab schools, since there is no chance that they will obtain additional funding from the state, which haredi schools receive thanks to various coalition agreements. In this case, attorney Havilio issued a legal opinion to forbid this move. Deputy Mayor Itzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism), who is also in charge of the haredi education portfolio, hurried to a private attorney, who issued a contrary opinion allowing legal approval for Barkat's decision. The law allows one to seek another legal opinion when it is a matter of policy and not a strict legal issue. Therefore, in this particular matter the law has not been violated in any way. What remains in question is the way different people see different things, especially from different places. Barkat, who as a mayor, seeks to prove to the haredi community he is not at war with them, made a move to improve slightly the adverse conditions of the haredi institutions. He has demonstrated that he will not sidestep thorny issues to achieve his policy. His other deputy, Pepe Allalu from Meretz, a longtime champion of improving the no less terrible conditions of the Arab educational institutions, was the only one to vote against the mayor's decision to seek outside legal counsel.