The Easy Way to Form a Coalition

Families like the Olmerts are leaving the city in droves for more pleasant surroundings.

In 1993, a short while after Yitzhak Shamir lost to Yitzhak Rabin in the battle for leadership of the state, Ehud Olmert decided that he very much wanted to oversee the administration of Jerusalem. He challenged Teddy Kollek, who had been mayor for 18 years, and won. Olmert beat the aging incumbent because he crafted an alliance with the heads of the capital's ultra-Orthodox communities, who mobilized their voters like generals marshaling their troops, instructing them to slip a "United Jerusalem" slip into the ballot box.

At the time, Olmert had a characteristic explanation for his decision to move into the municipal arena: after getting a taste of ministerial activity (he was a cabinet minister for five years), he was tired of parliamentary work (after 20 years) and was looking for a new area to which he could apply his talents. The Jerusalem Municipality seemed like an appropriate hunting ground.

Olmert served for nine and a half years until that, too, came to an end. He actually considered stepping down in December 1998, a month after he was re-elected to a second term: early elections were called for the 15th Knesset and he thought about challenging the Likud leadership race, but reconsidered. A year later he was unable to restrain himself, but Ariel Sharon beat him.

Olmert remained mayor until January 2003, when he resigned to join the Likud list for the 16th Knesset and to become Ariel Sharon's deputy prime minister. His behavior showed a lack of consideration for the welfare of the public, as opposed to his personal motives, and shortsightedness regarding his ability to predict the implications of his actions.

In order to win the mayoralty repeatedly, Olmert subordinated the interests of all of Jerusalem's residents to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox public. He vehemently rejected charges of having "sold the city to the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox]," claiming that all he did was to introduce an egalitarian approach to the allocation of municipal resources, but that was a hypocritical representation of the situation.

Under his leadership, representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties gained key posts in municipal government and had a decisive influence on the character and image of the city. As a result, Jerusalem is now a gloomy, parochial city (at Pesach, residents and visitors were greeted by walls plastered with posters bearing the image of matzot, produced by the municipality and reflecting the artistic taste of the city fathers), which is losing its mainstream population.

Families like the Olmerts are leaving the city in droves for more pleasant surroundings. This trend is the bitter fruit of the seed that Olmert planted by giving in to the demands of the Haredim: the city's productive non-religious (and religious-Zionist) populations are fed up with seeing their taxes fund the needs of the ultra-Orthodox, who remove themselves from the world of work.

A similar trend is taking shape on the national level. Olmert's coalition negotiators are seriously considering conceding to the demands of United Torah Judaism and Shas and reinstating the "Alpert law," which gave larger child allowances to families with many children.

The idea currently on the table is to cut the amounts given for the first and second child in a family and increase the amounts given for families with four or more children. This would restore the 2003 cuts to large-family allowances, which were intended to give Haredim an incentive to join the workforce, rather than remain completely dependent on the public purse.

Turning the clock back would not only mark a return to parasitic behavior in the Haredi community (since the Alpert law was abrogated, the participation of ultra-Orthodox in the workforce has risen), but also penalize poor families with three or fewer children.

Olmert's history as mayor of Jerusalem gives rise to the suspicion that in order to form a governing coalition, he will again choose the easy way out and be willing to pay too high a price to the Haredi parties.