J'lem councilman says Interior Ministry wants to remove him

Meir Margalit calls probe into illegal construction political.

JERUSALEM CITY COUNCILMAN Meir Margalit (photo credit: melanie lidman)
(photo credit: melanie lidman)
A fiery left-wing Jerusalem City Council member is accusing the Interior Ministry of running a “McCarthy” campaign against him in order to remove him from his position for political reasons.
Meir Margalit (Meretz) holds the municipality’s east Jerusalem portfolio, and was one of the founders of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD).
As part of their activism, ICAHD volunteers rebuild homes that have been demolished by the state due to their illegal status. Margalit estimates ICAHD has rebuilt 1,000 homes across the country, including 200 in east Jerusalem.
On Sunday afternoon, the Interior Ministry’s Building Inspection Branch summoned Margalit to answer questions about his involvement with ICAHD’s rebuilding activities. Margalit acknowledges he has been involved in rebuilding homes that were demolished, and that his activity is illegal. But he accused the ministry of trying to bring him to court to settle a personal vendetta, because he has used his international connections to stop a number of demolitions at the last minute.
“This is the first time they’re trying an activist for illegal building, and the first time they’re building a portfolio on a city council member,” he said on Sunday.
Margalit said he was not surprised the Interior Ministry targeted ICAHD for an investigation, but he was taken aback that they had zeroed in on him.
“I think someone advised them to do this. This comes more from the political direction than the professional direction,” he said. “We’re in the McCarthy era, and it will get to everyone sooner or later.”
Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach confirmed that Margalit is being investigated because there are reasonable suspicion that he is involved in illegal activities.
“Everyone has to obey the law, there are no exceptions,” she said.
Orbach said it is too early to tell if the investigations will lead to a court case.
If the Interior Ministry believes it has enough evidence to prove that Margalit broke the law through his involvement in ICAHD, it will serve him with an indictment and begin the process for a court case.
Margalit said the municipality conducted a similar investigation three years ago over his involvement in illegal building but the city’s legal adviser, Yossi Havilio, advised against suing a sitting city council member.