It was possible to get a close look at Nir Barkat, the Mayor of Jerusalem at a recent Press conference. The first impression was positive as Mayor Barkat went to each individual in the room and shook their hand as they introduced themselves and the company they represented. This may seem a small gesture, but it was unusual. He was primarily facing reporters from the International and Israeli-Anglo press as the conference was in English.
He came prepared for tough questions. After giving an overview of the growth of Jerusalem, where the budget will be focusing and his cultural, infrastructure and fiscal plans for the city, he threw the event open for questions. I did not take a tape recorder, but made notes and the essence of the experience is reflected in my comments.
One reporter strongly asked the Mayor what he was doing about the horrible danger of being in Jerusalem these days. He responded calmly and asked for some perspective on our situation. He reminded the press that the danger of any city in the world is measured by the number of murders committed annually in that city, per 100,000 population. He noted that in the USA as a whole, there are nine murders per 100,000 people per annum. In Chicago there are ten such murders. In New York there are four. In Jerusalem there are 1.5 murders per 100,000 residents.
He explained that the current spate of terrorism has been incited among the Muslim Arab teenage population, and that most of the attacks have been perpetrated not by those who live in Jerusalem but by others who travel a distance to the city to make their mark. This explanation was relevant as he was responding to another tough inquiry as to whether he planned on separating the Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem with a wall. “That will never happen.” He said vehemently.
He explained that he meets continuously with Jerusalem Arab leaders and that they feel their quality of life would be reduced from its’ current standard substantially if he were to create such a barrier. They do not want a wall. He does not want it. Any rumors to the contrary are inaccurate. This is a different discussion than the one regarding the wall which separates Israeli Jews from Arab villages from which violence has brought a high death toll throughout Israel. Barkat is intent that Jerusalem will remain united as a home for all religions, to remain under Israel for eternity. In spite of current perceptions, he intends that it must remain an example to the world of tolerance and the ability for Jew and Arab to live peacefully side by side.
A recent article which focused on the departure of seven thousand residents last year, was rebutted with the fact that actually there was a net increase of 15,000 population even after the 7,000 left the city. His lack of patience for slanted reporting was evident.
His attention to the needs of both the Arab areas and Haredi neighborhoods in terms of financial investment, were admirable. This includes more pre-schools, more infrastructure and more swimming pools for both constituencies. He explained that running away from problems makes them fester and never worthwhile at the end of the day.
When asked about his political career plans, he was more than clear. He may choose to run for one more term as Mayor of Jerusalem, but is evident that his service to Jerusalem is a stepping stone to higher National office . Even this honesty is refreshing after hearing politicians “waffle” on their career plans. He has become a loyal member of Likud and is forming relationships within the party to move up within it. He believes that the Likud philosophy will allow for inclusion and tolerance in Israel for years to come. His ideology is totally in line with that of Likud.
Given his eloquence, in spite of his imperfect English, he is on a road of leadership which will not end with the city of Jerusalem. He is a peacemaker among his people, both Arab and Jew. He is a successful businessman in his own right and accepting only one shekel a year in salary as Mayor elevates him above the norm.
Keep an eye on Nir Barkat. Mr. Netanyahu will not be Likud’s candidate for Prime Minister for eternity. Younger, fresh approaches are waiting in the wings. You heard it here !