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Inside City Hall, a dire ‘culture of cronyism’
By ABE SELIG
04/16/2010
Most city councillors avoid the press, and those who do speak to reporters paint a grim picture.
At first glance, the Jerusalem Municipality building on Thursday did not seem to reflect the corruption scandal that has embroiled much of the city’s former leadership.

Walking through the bustling hallways and corridors, there were few hints of the widening Holyland affair that has begun to make city hall look more like Tammany Hall.

Employees shuttled in and out of offices; meetings were convened and adjourned. Children played gleefully outside, riding their bicycles around the large plaza at the center of the Safra Square complex.

But below the surface, the mood had begun to swing. Most city councillors on Thursday avoided the press like the plague, and those who did speak to reporters painted a grim picture.

Meir Margalit (Meretz) said that while the Holyland affair was nothing to sneeze at, it was a mere symptom of a larger ethical failure plaguing the city’s – and the country’s –  leadership.

“What bothers me more than the affair itself, are the norms that have become acceptable here,” Margalit said. “A certain culture of cronyism has emerged which is quite disturbing.”

Detailing this “widespread phenomenon,” which Margalit said had begun to permeate all spheres of the municipal spectrum, he explained that the problem was “much deeper than just Holyland.

“It’s a set of norms,” he said. “A culture that says some things are okay to do, even though in a different situation they’d be forbidden. 

“It stems from sentiments like, ‘Oh, the bureaucracy won’t allow it any other way,’ or a million other reasons why these things can be done, and it’s a central problem.”

Margalit added that he believed additional cases of corruption would come to light, as the investigation into the dealings of former municipal officials continued.

“I think we will see [cases unfold involving the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s] Museum of Tolerance, the YMCA and possibly the Mamilla shopping mall,” he said. “And what’s more disturbing than anything, is that the same people who were willing to give away permits for these projects through bribery, also signed off on demolition orders for Arab homes.

“That’s the worst part,” he said. “It can’t be that someone who is willing to take kickbacks to allow more homes to be built at Holyland then goes and destroys the home of an Arab. That’s not how you build a country. We’re corrupted from within.

“We have to do a basic round of cleaning immediately,” Margalit added. “But cleaning is not enough. We also need surgery, which is principally connected to the current state of ethics in control here at City Hall.”
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