Jerusalem to hold elections for local community councils

Municipality seeking English-speaking candidates, who ‘already understand democracy,’ says politician.

Nir Barkat (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Nir Barkat
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
In an effort to increase community involvement, Jerusalem residents will have the opportunity to vote for community representatives for the first time in 10 years, Mayor Nir Barkat announced on Sunday.
The five neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze’ev, Shmuel Hanavi, Beit Safafa, Har Homa/Homat Shmuel, and the City Gardens (Rehavia, the German Colony, and Katamon) will participate in a pilot program to elect community representatives on December 14. The municipality hopes to expand the community elections to the entire city, including east Jerusalem community councils, next year.
“Elections are essential if we want to establish a friendly connection between the citizens and the municipal system,” Barkat said. “It’s very important for us that the citizens know we’re not working with municipality representatives [alone] or a vocal minority within the community council.”
Community councils have three functions: to bring specific complaints from the residents to the municipality, to oversee the implementation of municipal services, and to organize community activities for the area. They have existed for the past 30 years, since former mayor Teddy Kollek put them into place, but vary widely in size and influence.
Part of the plan for elections is to standardize the councils so they all have the same number of representatives and the same responsibilities.
Each body will have 15 representatives, nine elected by the community and six appointed by the municipality. Among the six appointed positions, Barkat will create four new representative positions for a planning and building representative, an education representative, a social welfare representative, and a culture and sport representative.
“[The election] is a chance to broadcast our message that we’re trying to introduce new blood into the system,” said Yuli Ben-Lavi, the Jerusalem region director of the Association of Community Centers.
“It gives legitimacy to the entire idea of community councils.”
Currently, people become community council representatives through personal connections. Some representatives were appointed by Kollek himself and have served for more than 30 years.
The pilot program will allow approximately 130,000 voting citizens to choose nine representatives for their community. Each election is estimated to cost about NIS 70,000, or a total of 350,000 for the five communities.
The municipality expects about 20 percent of the community will turn out to vote.
The municipality and community councils will be available to advise interested citizens on the nuts and bolts of running a campaign, and allow candidates to make flyers and small campaign posters on the premises free of charge.
“Everyone who is interested in the future of Jerusalem should stand up and get involved,” said Barkat. He called on anyone with some free time who was concerned about their neighborhood to run for a position. The community councils meet monthly.
The municipality is also appealing to the Englishspeaking community to get involved, and will publish information in English about becoming a candidate in the City Garden council and possibly in Har Homa.
“Elections are important because suddenly Anglos understand that they’re part of the city as well,” explained Rachel Azaria, a city councillor who holds the neighborhood councils and early childhood portfolios.
“Anglos can really carry the process. These are the people that are already involved in their children’s schools and their community. This is the time to get inside – they already understand democracy because they have a good education about democracy,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
Candidates must be citizens over the age of 21. The deadline for inclusion on the ballot is October 31.