Our town

Today's election in Jerusalem will determine whether mainstream Zionism still holds sway in Zion.

Old Jerusalem 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Old Jerusalem 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
From Pisgat Ze'ev and Sanhedria to Emek Refa'im and Har Nof, voters in Jerusalem - and scores of other municipalities - go to the polls today to elect a new mayor and city council. The capital's mayoral candidates are Nir Barkat, Meir Porush, Arkadi Gaydamak and Dan Birron. If none receives 40 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off. Thirteen parties are competing for 31 places on the council, including Barkat's Jerusalem Shall Succeed, Porush's United Torah Judaism, Gaydamak's Social Justice and Birron's Green Leaf. A coalition of modern Orthodox and secular good-government types running as Wake Up Jerusalemites say they'll back Barkat if elected. Before casting their ballot for mayor, voters should ask themselves:
  • Who will best manage the department chiefs tasked with the day-to-day running of the city?
  • Which man best embodies Jerusalem's role as the capital of the state and heart of the Zionist enterprise? FOR PEOPLE to whom Jerusalem is more than a symbol, but also home, the prosaic does matter: By making driving into the city center - day or night - a nightmare, incumbent Mayor Uri Lupolianski has discouraged people from patronizing shops and restaurants in the King George/Jaffa Street/Ben Yehuda vicinity. Which candidate is most likely to reverse the strangulation of downtown? On a range of issues - the boondoggle light rail construction project, dirty streets, long waits for buses, the red tape involved in doing business in Jerusalem - who is most likely to come up with innovative solutions? Who will really remedy the neglect in the city's Arab neighborhoods and make it easier for east Jerusalem tax-payers to obtain building permits? Most Arab residents will boycott the elections and disenfranchise themselves. Yet the city has an obligation to provide equal services to every sector of the population because Jewish sovereignty - not as a slogan, but in practice - comes with responsibility. Who will work to make the bureaucracy more responsive? Ask the right questions? Be smart and fair in allocating the city's budgetary resources? Who will best encourage the private sector to create jobs? Who is most likely not to see the mayoralty as an opportunity to dispense patronage? Who will trouble himself to master the intricacies of what the city does and how it does it - from sanitation and social-welfare, to youth services and culture? For a mayor can't supervise what he doesn't understand. BUT THE second criteria, no less important, is who can best embody the ethos of Jerusalem as the political and spiritual center of the Zionist enterprise? Who best understands that Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people? Who embraces the centrality of the State of Israel - and Jerusalem - in the life of the nation? Who best appreciates the need for mutual respect among Jews? Who best understands the multi-faceted nature of the Jewish people in the Diaspora? Jerusalem's current non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox mayor is an affable politician. He has tried to navigate between the demands of his insular haredi constituency, who see modernity as mostly threatening and coercion as a sometimes necessary tool, and his public role as chief executive of a city that is home to a non-haredi majority: modern Orthodox, national religious, traditional as well as secular. In June, City Hall spent NIS 2 million for a ceremony to inaugurate the light rail Bridge of Strings (really a bridge to nowhere) at the entrance to town. In what's become known as the Taliban affair, officiating haredim insisted that a group of school girls about to perform a dance don ski caps and cloaks so as not to appear "promiscuous." And so it was. Today voters get to decide what sort of Judaism they want people to think of when they think of Jerusalem - inviting and Zionistic, or coercive and parochial? Voters need also to choose wisely in selecting a slate to work with the next mayor. Tens of thousands of votes in the last election were squandered on parties that failed to clear the threshold. Today's Jerusalem election will not just determine whether city services are fairly and efficiently delivered. It will determine whether mainstream Zionism still holds sway in Zion.