Putting the residents of Jerusalem first

A holistic approach is needed to place Jerusalem back on the top of the national priorities, and its residents on top of the list of the priorities of city hall.

Moshe Lion 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Moshe Lion 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In one of the most compelling and timeless prognostications, the Prophet Zechariah encourages the people of Israel with a prophecy that the streets of Jerusalem will once again become full of youth and activity. This prophecy remained with our people during the tumultuous millennia exile as we turned in hope and prayer towards our holy city.
Nevertheless, even though we have redeemed and liberated our eternal and indivisible city, over the past few years we have witnessed a slow reversal of Zechariah’s vision.
Since the beginning of Mayor Nir Barkat’s term, more than 90,000 residents, mostly the youth of Jerusalem, have decided to leave, creating a massive gaping hole in the city’s future.
Unfortunately, this is merely a symptom of a far greater malaise afflicting our treasured capital. For the past few years, there has been something gravely amiss in the order of priorities in Jerusalem. While there have been several high-profile events, like the Formula 1 Road Show, go-cart races and the Jerusalem Knights in the Old City, which have brought great public relations results to the mayor and to city hall, the real Jerusalem beyond the pyrotechnics and pageantry is suffering.
The lifeblood of every city is its residents. In recent years, its inhabitants have become, at best, unwilling extras, and at worst, maltreated props, in the theater that has become Jerusalem.
The residents, secular and religious, have been largely ignored as the current administration at the Jerusalem Municipality conjures up its next high-profile event. Perhaps the most telling and honest statement was made recently by Barkat, when he said, during an interview with Channel 1, that “in the next term I will deal with the neighborhoods, it is impossible to do everything.”
It is simply astounding that a mayor who held his seat for five years is promising the people of Jerusalem that only during his next term will the desperate needs of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem and their residents be addressed.
We need a dramatic change in the order of priorities in the city because soon for many it will simply be too late.
More than 10,000 businesses have closed over the past five years. The average wage of a resident of Jerusalem is half that of someone living in Tel Aviv. However, the cost of living in Jerusalem continues to rise exponentially, creating an untenable situation for many, causing the continuing mass exodus.
Additionally, standards of education in the capital are in free-fall.
According to a recent poll, Jerusalem is now the 135th worst for education out of 150 Israeli cities. Almost three-quarters of Jerusalem-based teachers express deep dissatisfaction with their working conditions and a whole 10 percent fewer students are passing their matriculation than five years ago. This should be no surprise as each Jerusalem student receives only a quarter of the financial investment their fellow students from Tel Aviv receive.
Furthermore, perhaps to supplement many of the high-profile events, a silent tax has been added to the already exorbitant municipal and other taxes placed on residents.
There has been a significant rise, around 20 percent, in the number of parking tickets placed on the windows of cars parked on the roads of Jerusalem.
However, even this has not helped the administration in Safra Square avoid a debilitating debt of NIS 220 million.
I submitted my candidacy to be the next mayor of Jerusalem because I am intimately familiar with these facts, and I can not stand idly by and watch the situation reach a point of no return for our beloved capital city.
All my life I have worked to better the lives of the residents of Jerusalem, whether as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, where I founded a committee of directors-general of government ministries for the development of Jerusalem, or as the chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority, a position I held for five years until recently. In both positions, I have brought hundreds of millions of shekels for the benefit of Jerusalem and its residents.
I can only imagine the state of the city if at the Jerusalem Development Authority we had not been involved with projects aimed at providing incentives for young people to remain, promoted hundreds of ventures designed to improve the local economy, and upgraded and developed the capital’s physical and technological infrastructure.
Above all, Jerusalem is a city of its residents and the city will thrive or languish depending on whether they develop or decline. The priority of the next mayor has to be improving the lives of the people of Jerusalem and reversing the current negative trends.
This can be achieved in various ways, including by improving relations between city hall and government institutions and creating an emergency program in concert with the relevant ministries for Jerusalem, improving the education system, cleaning the neglected parts of the city, reinstituting the crucial neighborhood councils which help the mayor understand the challenges on the ground of the residents, lowering soaring house prices by ameliorating the blockages in the bureaucratic system and building affordable housing for first-time buyers and generally looking at ways to ease and improve the lives of residents.
A holistic approach is needed to place Jerusalem back on the top of the national priorities, and its residents on top of the list of the priorities of city hall. Only then can we fulfill the true vision of the redeemed, indivisible and eternal capital city of Israel and the Jewish People.
The writer is a candidate for Jerusalem mayor and served as chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority from 2008 until 2013.
Editor’s note: Mayor Nir Barkat’s office declined an offer to write a column to appear alongside this one. However, Barkat is interviewed in today’s In Jerusalem supplement.