Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, lambasted Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat during a radio interview on Tuesday, saying that the capital had “really deteriorated” during the five years of his tenure at the head of the municipality.
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Lieberman is supporting the mayoral bid of a close associate, Moshe Leon, in the October elections and is heavily involved in Leon's campaign.
“It is unacceptable that in education Jerusalem would come in 35th place after [the central Israeli Arab town of] Taibeh,” Lieberman told Israel Radio. “It is unacceptable that Israel’s capital is dirty and that emigration from it has broken all records, particularly of a secular and educated population. Instead of talking about his accomplishments, [Barkat] just defames his opponent. He is hysterical and afraid, and he is going to lose the election.”
Lieberman added that “Jerusalem has the highest arnona (municipal tax) in the State of Israel, higher than [fashionable Tel Aviv suburbs] Savyon or Kfar Shmaryahu and [Jerusalem residents] receive services on the level of Damascus.”
Asked whether his rift with Barkat was the result of the mayor's refusal to accede to Lieberman's political appointments, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader responded: "It's all lies that are very characteristic of Barkat. I have never spoken to him about appointments."
When confronted with the fact that, until recently, Leon did not live in Jerusalem, Lieberman said: "When you want to bring in someone strong to repair the situation, you bring him in not only from another city but from another country. Jerusalem will only profit from the fact that Leon will be mayor."
Lieberman also attacked the newspaper Israel Hayom for its alleged support of Barkat. Israel Hayom is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and is seen as supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Referring to a recent report in the paper that former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski intends to make a bid to retake city hall, Lieberman said the story was a lie designed to hurt Leon's candidacy. "They published something that serves Nir Barkat in the race; a lie and falsehood without any substantiation," Lieberman said.
On Monday, Lupolianski himself said: "I won't deny that there is pressure on me to return as mayor of Jerusalem, but I am still not in the picture."
In response to Lieberman’s interview, Barkat's campaign said that the remarks ”are a mass of slander and lies that cannot hide the fact that Lieberman, who is also not a Jerusalem resident, was forced to recruit an unknown candidate from Givatayim in a deal with [the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party], Aryeh Deri, who has acknowledged this in public interviews, with the intention of winning the ultra-Orthodox vote in a political deal. Jerusalem is not another stop on the road to amassing political power and control over Jerusalem and the big money that is invested there. What Barkat has been doing is visible in every corner of the city. After five years, the city has experienced a turnaround after many years of neglect. We are certain that the residents of Jerusalem would not want to return to those bad years just because it is in the political interest of Deri and Lieberman."