The news that the Nir Barkat would step down as Mayor of Jerusalem to run for the Knesset, should not have impacted my life in any way. After all I am a totally blind partially deaf and (supposedly) left wing British Journalist. I have a deep love and interest in Israel and the middle east, but have never worked there. Indeed when the news broke I was in the midst of a long and complicated process to join the European Parliament for a five month internship. In short the news should have meant as little as an unalarming growl of thunder in the night, something to be heard, registered and ignored.
However due to a surprising string of events, the news meant a great deal to me. This is the tale of how an election in a far away city could still affect the life of a blind resident of the UK, with no Israeli connection, ended up a devoted follower of The city’s former mayor at the expense of of when man often hailed as the Prime minister in waiting when the current British Government falls.
To begin this tale, we must go back in time to nearly a year ago in an underground basement room in Headland House the headquarters of the NUJ. Where a totally blind and partially deaf Journalist was taking his seat amongst his colleagues on the NEC (national executive council) his name was David Wilkins. Having recently been elected to this position, and being prepared to be thoroughly bored for the rest of the day, I was surprised to find we were to be addressed by some guy called Jeremy Corbyn, You may have heard the name? Having headed up the all parliamentary group on media before his promotion to labour leader, he was in his element when addressing a journalism trade union.
At the time I knew nothing of the anti-Semitic views he’d had and almost certainly still holds, but it was the day that Corbyn was to lose my vote. Even before the crucial question time began I had reservations, feeling the policies he outlined were impressive, but he’d given very little idea of how they could be implemented. But then came the most important time, the time for questions. way, it was time for question. I must confess to being flatter I had a turn, until I’d asked him my question that is—
had been regularly told by editors–
“Sorry David, you can’t record a video, you find social media challenging, you can’t be a journalist.”
How did labour plan to help disabled people like find work, without having to take their employers to court?
“Well David,” said the labour leader. “it’s obvious to me that you’ve been discriminated against and if the Tories hadn’t cut Legal Aid, you could have taken all of your employers to court for what they’ve done to you.” This speech effectively ended my support for the labour party under Corbyn. Not only did I feel that going to court was a symbol that negotiations had failed (always a braid sign or a potential employee) but I felt that a man who always states how much labour is listened, had not listened to the question. Instead he’d gone for the typical politician’s trick of using it as a club to beat the rival party. It convinced me (and recent events have enforced my view) that the labour leader is not a people person. He may understand his principles, but not the people they effect. How else to explain why a man claiming anti-Semitism has no place in his party, would still argue that it was perfectly fine to say that is a racist endeavour?
Fast forward three weeks, and I was to be found on the front row of a different gathering. It was JW3, London’s Jewish community Centre, a venue where I truly experience Hesed, (a theme to be explored in a later post.)I’d come to hear Nir Barkat Mayor of Jerusalem had been invited to speak and answer questions. Jerusalem was a city I was passionate about and if tours were to reject me a place because I was totally blind and partially deaf, the at least I could hear about it from the man who was personable for it. plus I’d looked Nir Barkat up online, and what I’d seen I liked.
After a talk covering many issues, I was already struck by the differences between him the last politician I’d met. Nir’s openness, and enthusiasm, as well as his oratory, (the latter in which Corbyn had been entirely lacking)were evident in everything he said. He was of course flawed, which of us is not, but he came across as an open and honest person, who cared deeply about the city of Jerusalem and all people in it, regardless of their faith, race or creed. Now it was question time again, and although I’d put my hand up I was looking forward to hearing several different views and to improving my mind a little until my neighbour nudged me in the ribs.
“he’s pointing at you, you’re the David he’s picked out. Startled I began my question uncertainly.
“Shalom, you’ve said that you began our career in business and that your passionate about education. how have these experiences been used to help disabled people living in Jerusalem?”
Admittedly this was a trick question. Ask most politicians about disability related issues and they stumble stutter, dodge duck and weave. Or simply give a general answer and find a way to club their opposite number for doing a lousy job. But not this time.
“What a wonderful question,” Barkat enthused. This proceeded detailed explanation of how Nir Barkat had already seen more disabled children in school alongside his own kids, , and how he wanted to see more, and how he planned to build a cable car system to ensure disabled people could get around the old city which he knew was a inaccessible place if you were blind or in a wheelchair. I wasn’t Impressed so much by a particular policy (although it was a far better list than I’d dared hope for. rather I had the sense I was talking to a man who truly cared about Disability people. Where most politicians seem uninformed at best and disinterested at worst. and his surprise and hurt when he found out that tour after tour rejected me due to my disability was also a refreshing response.
Were this the end of the story, it would still have been Corbin’s loss and Barkat’s gain. But it was not. A few days later an email arrived from the Office of Jerusalem’s Mayor no less, saying Nir had obtained it from JW3. Being moved by my question, he wanted to put me me In touch with Shalva, a non denominational centre Supporting disabled children from early childhood to adulthood. A place that moved and inspired me more than anything else I saw in Israel, when I at last found a tour Willing to take me to Jerusalem of Gold. I could not see the Stones that glowed in the sunlight, but it certainly had a mayor (now moving on) whose heart was poorly golden.
And Shalva through contact I gave them may soon be extending their influence to South Africa.
This does not mean that I will be a die-hard supporter of Nir Barkat from now on. Tiber will be statements that I will not agree with, and he will have position I will be unable to back. Such is the nature of things. But still the news that he would run for the Knesset was a moment they gave me pause. First of course there was disappointment. Where was the cable car system he’d said he’d build in Jerusalem? And what about the disabled school children not studying alongside theirs able bodied peers? It is always sad when a respected man moves on even if his reasoning is right. But at the same time there was hope and excitement on his behalf. Were he to sit on the Knesset bench for Likud, then my experience suggest the disabled people living in Israel may well have a champion. And while watching today’s election with baited breath to see who will take his place, I wish Nir Barkat every success. But there is still that sense of disappointment, what a great pity the man who gained my vote from Corbyn, is someone I cannot vote for.