Jerusalem Mayor and Secularists Clash Over City Council Portfolios

Hitorerut B'Yerushalayim, the largest secular faction on the city council, is demanding the finance portfolio, which Barkat has already given to a right-wing faction.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

An unprecedented clash between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a secular faction in the municipal council could leave Barkat, who was reelected last month, at the head of a rightist, Orthodox coalition. Barkat has so far signed coalition agreements only with the Orthodox factions, which, unlike the secular factions, did not support him in his campaign for mayor.

The clash between the mayor’s office and the secular movement, Hitorerut B'Yerushalayim, which garnered four places on the city council, making it the largest secular faction on the council, concerns the distribution of portfolios in a future coalition. Secular activists are critical of the mayor for preferring to form his coalition with parties that did not support him in his race against Moshe Leon.

At the end of last week, Barkat signed an agreement with the right-wing Yerushalayim Meuhedet faction, one of whose activists, Arieh King, was among Barkat’s most vociferous opponents during the recent campaign. King’s party ran a controversial campaign to “Judaize” Jerusalem.

By contrast, three pluralistic factions, Hitorerut with its four places on the council, Yerushalmim and Meretz, with two places each, have been left out at this point. In response to Barkat’s coalition-building, the three factions have signed an agreement to cooperate with regard to joining the coalition.

The main bone of contention revolves around the all-important finance portfolio, which Hitorerut would like to see go to its chairman, Ofer Berkovitch, but which Barkat has given to Shmuel Shekdi, chairman of Yerushalayim Meuhedet. Hitorerut says it deserves the portfolio, not only because it supported Barkat throughout the campaign, but also because it doubled its strength on the city council and has twice the number of council places than Yerushalayim Meuhedet.

On Sunday, after coalition talks between Barkat and Hitorerut blew up, a senior figure in Barkat’s office lashed out against the movement and its chairman. “Ofer Berkovitch’s conduct is childish, irresponsible and could leave Hitorerut in the opposition, without any position of influence in the city,” he said. Berkovitch had been offered a number of other portfolios, he said, including economic development, center city, business licensing and sports. “These are issues that Hitorerut pledged to deal with. Ofer is behaving irresponsibly and insincerely toward the public he represents,” he said.

The source, who is close to Barkat, also said that Berkovitch was not suitable for the job of chairman of the finance committee. “You can’t give someone without any significant managerial experience responsibility for NIS 5 billion, which must be sensitively administered,” he said.

Barak is said to believe that the finance portfolio should be held by someone from the national religious camp because such a person can maintain the balance between the various groups in the population.

On Thursday a rumor emerged that the finance portfolio had been given to a “religious bloc,” including not only Yerushalayim Meuhedet but also the one-man faction of Habayit Hayehudi and the secularist Yerushalmim. However, Yerushalmim claims that the rumor was intended to justify giving the finance portfolio to Shkedi.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.Credit: Reuters

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