Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon is to seek on Thursday the city council’s approval for the appointment of right-wing activist Arieh King as his deputy.
A representative on the city council on behalf of left-wing party Meretz is considering leaving the coalition if the appointment goes through.
King is best known for settling Jews in East Jerusalem and evicting Palestinian families from the city's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. He has dealt extensively with attempts to find heirs to Jewish property in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city and bringing in investors to fund settlements.
Last week, the municipality’s Planning and Building Committee approved a plan submitted by King to build 140 housing units for Jews in the northern East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.
King has been accused of racism in the past by his detractors. For example, in the election campaign he produced signs comparing the Muslim call to prayer by the muezzin in the city’s mosques to a rooster crow and he pledged to see to it that the volume would be lowered. On Passover two years ago, he praised the confiscation of bread from a stand in the Old City, calling it a step in “the Judaization of Jerusalem.”
“Arieh is a robust man of action and I have no doubt he will continue to contribute much to all residents of Jerusalem in his role as deputy mayor. I thank him for consisting to serve without pay at this time,” adding that by doing so King was “setting a praiseworthy personal example.”
If approved, King will be Leon’s eighth deputy. According to the coalition agreement, King’s appointment to the role was scheduled to happen in a year or so, in the middle of Leon’s term. However, Leon decided to move it up after he lost hope that the secular Hitorerut party would join the coalition.
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The city councilwoman representing Meretz, Laura Wharton is now considering leaving the coalition if the council approves King’s appointment.
Meretz’s Jerusalem branch leadership is set to meet Thursday to discuss leaving the coalition in response to the appointment. “Meretz Jerusalem takes a dim view of the appointment of this racist right-winger as deputy mayor at a time when the city is in crisis. We will consider what steps to take for the good of all of the city’s residents,” the party said in a statement.
“I’m very surprised that Laura Wharton is threatening to leave,” King said in response. “After all, she knows full well that she will have no better partner than I in improving the infrastructure in East Jerusalem, and in listening to the needs of its residents. I hope the Meretz branch [whose members] I consider staunch political opponents will step up and see the advantages in my becoming deputy mayor, by which East Jerusalem will undoubtedly receive more attention from the municipality. That is in addition to the various environmental issues that are so close to my heart and the heart of City Councilwoman Wharton,” King said.
Ofer Berkovitch, chairman of Hitorerut, said in response: ‘With the appointment of Arieh King as a deputy, Leon turns his back on most of the public in Jerusalem. His coalition is purely ultra-Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox nationalist. We have asked Leon more than once to create cooperation, both at the beginning of the term and in the coronavirus crisis, out of a sense of responsibility to those we represent. Leon has proven time and time again that political considerations come before the good, the unity and the resilience of Jerusalem.” Berkovitch said the appointment of political allies, as well as a lack of transparency in funding, and “the sideling of Hitorerut, the largest party on the city council, in the opposition,” were examples of Leon’s considerations.