Hitorerut party looks to ‘wake up’ Jerusalem

The "pluralistic Zionist" social and political movement is on track to garner up to five seats on the city council.

Hitorerut B’Yerushalayim party 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Hitorerut B’Yerushalayim party 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Hitorerut B’Yerushalayim party – a “pluralistic Zionist,” social and political movement based in Jerusalem – is on track to garner up to five seats on the city council in the October 22 municipal elections, chairman Ofer Berkowitz said Wednesday.
According to Berkowitz, the grassroots party – which has been in talks with incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat to join his coalition – already has over 14,000 supporters on Facebook and is expecting up to 30,000 votes.
Such a turnout would earn the nearly six-year-old organization at least four mandates, or seats, on the next city council.
“Our hope is to get up to five mandates, which is a big amount when you consider there are a total of 31 for the entire city council,” said Berkowitz, who is 30.
He added that Jerusalem Awakening is continuing to disperse hundreds of volunteers throughout the city to get its message out, which Berkowitz said has paid off considerably.
“A lot of young people are finding their home in Hitorerut because they’re seeing we have a complete agenda for the city,” he said. “Because of this we have by far the most support on Facebook.”
Hitorerut’s signature issues include cleaning up the capital and keeping secular Jerusalemites and young families from leaving the city by ensuring employment and a wide range of social venues remain open during Shabbat.
“We want to maintain the Jewish image of Jerusalem, but to also offer options for non- Jews and secular people during Shabbat without interfering with religious people,” Berkowitz said.
Indeed, the group has held multiple protests over forced Shabbat closures of cinemas and restaurants, which it says alienate secular Jews throughout the city and encourage them to move to more accommodating cities.
Perhaps most notable among Hitorerut’s many protests were its demonstrations against the forced closure of Cinema City, a 15-screen, NIS 125 million compound being constructed above the Kirya (government complex).
The organization was also actively involved in the 2011 social justice protests to fight for affordable housing and better jobs in the capital.
Hitorerut has also worked with residents of Ramat Sharett to ensure secular and ultra-Orthodox residents are fairly represented by dividing the grounds of the southwest Jerusalem neighborhood to accommodate both populations’ needs.
Additionally, Berkowitz said his party has secured an “understanding” with Barkat to oversee the city’s sanitation program, among other programs involving younger residents, families and developing better employment opportunities.
A recent report published by the group regarding the capital’s ongoing garbage collection problem revealed that Jerusalem is one of the most trash-ridden cities in the nation.
Berkowitz added that his organization has a formal agreement with Barkat to exchange all extra votes short of an additional mandate.
“If we have any extra votes that are short of gaining another mandate, we will give them to Barkat, and he has agreed to do the same for us,” he said.
“We are the only pluralistic Zionist group to have such an agreement with the mayor,” he added.
Ultimately, Berkowitz said his organization’s goal is to make the capital more desirable and equitable for the party’s thousands of secular constituents.
“Our hope is to ensure a pluralistic voice for all residents of Jerusalem, and to keep young people and families working and living here, now and in the future,” Berkowitz added.