Barkat Hires Arthur Finkelstein to Counter Netanyahu, Steinitz

Jerusalem mayor, claiming gov't is shirking its responsibility to the capital, enlists the services of American spinmeister

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hired political consultant Arthur Finkelstein to wage a campaign against Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Finkelstein is seen as the mastermind behind Netanyahu's victory in the 1996 elections.

Nir Barkat- Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelbaum

Next week, Barkat and the city will begin a campaign against the government due to what they describe in a press release as "the government's shaking off Jerusalem, which is harming its standing and its residents."

According to the municipality, under the current government budget the amount to be transferred to the capital was cut while there has been a considerable increase in the spending the government imposes on Jerusalem without providing any compensation.

Since 2000, says the city, there has been a drop in government support for Jerusalem from NIS 269 million (around 13 percent of the budget ) to NIS 185 million (around 5 percent of the budget ).

At the same time, the government continues to impose expenses. For example, due to government decisions to grant exemptions from municipal property taxes to organizations and residents, the municipality is losing more than NIS 550 million. Other expenses resulted from wage agreements between the government and the Histadrut labor federation and the attorney general's decision to move the garbage disposal site in Abu Dis, which obligates Jerusalem to transport municipal waste for burial to a dump in the south of the country. The municipality says the government's behavior will affect the city's growth.

Arthur Finkelstein, once a close confidante of Netanyahu, gained fame for the aggressive campaigns he led on behalf of Republican candidates in the United States, and is credited for the success of Netanyahu in the 1996 elections against Shimon Peres.

The municipality's campaign will include newspaper ads, a lobby in the Knesset and flooding the media with messages. Also under consideration is cutting back on municipal services provided to government offices, such as garbage removal.

The city said: "Jerusalem is not just another city in the country; it is the capital of Israel and of the Jewish people. What the entire world understands, the government of Israel has apparently forgotten. It is inconceivable that the capital of Israel should collect donations from the government every year. We call on the government of Israel to transform talk into action."

The press release further stated: "Jerusalem is surrounded by talk! The prime ministers and the ministers always talk loftily about Jerusalem, but fail and do not translate the words into action" (Netanyahu told the cabinet on the last Jerusalem Day: "Jerusalem should take precedence over every other city and have a special status. When you come and request preference for other places in the country, remember and know that Jerusalem comes before all." )

The Finance Ministry said in response: "The Jerusalem municipality receives an annual capital grant of NIS 185 million even though according to the criteria in the wording of the balance grant, it is not even eligible for the grant. Along with this budget, special development and growth plans were presented for Jerusalem for a total of hundreds of millions of shekels. With regard to any complaints the municipality may have about its budget, it should contact the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for local authorities."