Aaron Kalman
Working for Israel and the Jewish People

For Jerusalem’s sake, vote Barkat

On Tuesday (October 22nd) municipal elections will be held around Israel, and the residents of cities, towns and regional councils will  determine who will govern their day to day life for the next five years.

[An important pause: whoever you are, wherever you live, take this opportunity and go vote. Don’t treat it merely as an option, but as your  duty to help shape both your life and the place you live in.]

One of the most interesting municipal election campaigns is taking place in Jerusalem, where incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat faces a challenge from Moshe Lion. Here’s the bottom line — for a number of reasons, Barkat is the more deserving of the two. I’d like to address the need for continuity and a long term vision, ideas often pushed aside in Israel.

All of us know the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” but few of us are willing to live by the rule that real change takes time — not only in Rome, but also in Jerusalem.

I’m the last person to claim Barkat is perfect, or that his term marked the golden age of the city. However, he set the wheels of change turning in a number of fields. From authorising a major reform which allows parents to choose where their children will learn to drastically increasing the flow of tourists, from turning a deserted train station into a flourishing cultural center to making sure the 2013 Maccabiah was held in the city, Barkat has had a positive impact.

Could things be better? Of course. The streets could (and should!) be cleaner and buses should run on a more frequent basis and not be as crowded. But the city is moving forward and electing an unproven newcomer with no vision or feel of the city’s pulse will only derail it.

Barkat has a vision for the city. Whether he’s added thousands or tens of thousands of jobs to the local market (it all depends who you ask and how you count), he’s set the goal at 100,000 more over the next five years. In contrast, Lion call’s these projected numbers “impossible” and actively lowers the bar being set for the city’s future.

At the end of the day, besides Lion’s own local Likud party, there are no significant Zionist parties voicing support for him, and even within the Likud the younger generation (headed by Hebrew U’s Lavi student body,) issued a call for their members and friends to vote Barkat.

To make things even more clear: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter of support to 43 out of 44 Likud candidates around the country. Lion was the only candidate not to receive one.

In a blog published on the Times of Israel earlier this week, Bobby Brown tried to convince me and the city’s other residents to make the wrong choice and support Lion, claiming the campaign against him was “ad hominem attacks” with no substance.

It’s possible Brown was referring to the fact — often pointed out by Barkat supporters — that the man he used to work with now works for Avigdor Liberman and Aryeh Deri.

Perhaps Lion has a nice resume, and (especially since, unlike Brown, I’ve never met him or had any dealings with him,) I have nothing personal against him. But, there is also no doubt that were it not for two convicted politicians trying to gain a foothold in the city, the man from the city of Givataim would not be running for the mayorship of Jerusalem.

This isn’t an ad hominem attack. This is an important fact. The mayor of a city is supposed to worry about one thing, and one thing only — how to better the lives of those who live in his city. In this case, it appears Lion is but a pawn in the larger scheme of things, with Deri telling a radio station that once Lion is elected Liberman will topple the current government.

There are other reasons not to vote for Lion, not because he’s from another city but rather because he doesn’t know Jerusalem well enough. Here’s one anecdote: In a recent TV interview he was asked which movie theatres in Jerusalem operated on Shabbat, a legitimate question considering questions of religion in Jerusalem’s public sphere take center stage in city politics; he answered “none.”

Two weeks before the elections, one would hope the future mayor knows that most of Jerusalem’s movie theatres operate on Shabbat. Lion however, didn’t.

About the Author
Aaron Kalman is a Program Officer at the Ruderman Family Foundation, working to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community. Formerly an advisor to Israel's Minister of Diaspora Affairs and a Jewish Agency emissary to Sydney, Australia, Aaron has an M.A. in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and a B.Ed. from Herzog College.