Trouble in paradise - already

Barkat's coalition is not at risk - yet. But it is facing some serious difficulties.

Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Barkat speaks to supporters 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
When newly elected Mayor Nir Barkat managed to form a broad city council coalition, he received kudos for his success. After all, few observers on the local political scene expected the young and inexperienced winner to obtain full cooperation from the nine different parties that made it to Kikar Safra. Well, Barkat did it. He convinced the large veteran parties to join, obtain - up until now - full cooperation from his own party and even succeed in corralling the members of Shas, despite the fact that he had nothing serious to offer them. In fact, he managed to get United Torah Judaism on board for almost nothing in return: only one deputy mayor (instead of two plus the mayor on the former city council). Regarding Shas, Barkat's achievement is even bigger. Shas, which dropped from four to five seats, joined the coalition without receiving any benefits: no deputy mayor (meaning no paid city councillors) and not even a prestigious committee to chair. Many in voters indeed asked themselves why they joined at all and even forecast a short-lived participation in the coalition. As for the rest, Barkat succeeded in convincing all the other representatives that he was their only choice and included the Likud, Meretz, Israel Beiteinu, Yael Antebi (from Pisgat Ze'ev) and Wake Up-Jerusalemites in his coalition for a bargain price. Until now. Since the last coalition meeting some two weeks ago, the promising coalition and pride of the mayor has registered a few dissonant tones. We at "Corridors" are well aware of the fact that dissonant tones are not always a bad sign. After all, wasn't it Mozart who wrote one of his most beautiful string quartets and still named it boldly the "Dissonance" quartet? Well, says one of the members of the dissonant coalition, perhaps differences can be useful and even create a kind of harmony; but unless you are the genius from Vienna, it certainly is not good for politics. Let it be said loud and clear: Barkat's coalition is not at risk - yet. But it is facing some serious difficulties, the kind that are experienced by many coalitions in local politics - i.e., its members' inability to acknowledge that a coalition is a group of people who, of their own free will, put a "boss" at their head. If we take a closer look, we will discover that inside Shas, the frustrations are caused mainly by the loss of income (the two longtime enemy/partner leaders, Eli Simhayoff and Shlomo Attias, are blaming each other for the loss of the position of deputy mayor), while the No. 3, Shmuel Yitzhaki, complains that despite holding the portfolio of property tax discounts, he does not have access to the department computer. In Meretz, it seems that its success is costing a high price. Despite the fact that the party just managed to maintain its strength - still three seats - this time, the traditionally opposition party was invited to join the chambers of power; and its leader, Pepe Allalu, fulfilled his dream and became deputy mayor. But it is nonetheless difficult for the left-wing party to pursue its own agendas while remaining in a largely religious-right coalition. Meir Margalit, for example, has managed to create a rare consensus opposing his activism against the demolition of Arab houses and thus feels extremely frustrated. As for the only Likud representative, Elisha Peleg, he is outraged by what he regards as Barkat's manipulation to nominate "his" men to the boards of municipality-affiliated companies. Yael Antebi, who focuses on public transportation, has complained that despite her requests, she doesn't receive any professional support. In Shas, Wake Up-Jerusalemites, Likud and parts of Meretz, the feeling is that the municipality is a "one-man show" - the man being Mayor Barkat, surrounded by what at least two city council members have nicknamed "Barkat's boys," alluding to the very young bunch of assistants who follow the mayor blindly. "It's not that he's not doing the right things. The mayor is dedicated to the city, and he works hard to improve things. It's just that we city council members feel superfluous here," commented one veteran city council member. "A broad coalition is the right thing for Jerusalem, and does not mean keeping members in line or a single opinion for every topic," responds Barkat's spokesman, Evyatar Elad. "The city council coalition is based on a broad common denominator among its members, centered around promoting Jerusalem. The mayor is aware that members occasionally hold dissenting views, and he encourages this within a democratic framework. The coalition agreement allows city councillors to express their views on different topics, which is reflected at city council meetings. Decisions are made on individual matters in accordance with these views." One of the issues raised at a recent city council meeting was the need for elections in neighborhood administrations. City council member Rachel Azaria, who is in charge, promoted the decision to hold them urgently. But besides this success (three neighborhoods will soon hold elections, and there will be three more in six months), in her party, Wake Up-Jerusalemites, there is frustration at what is perceived as Barkat's strong tendency to look at issues only from a business perspective. "Social issues, which are so important for us and our constituency, are not really part of his agenda," commented an activist of the movement.