When I was younger I would periodically write letters to the Prime Minister. My mother was a local Jerusalem activist and gave me a sense of what it meant to be dedicated to public service. However important the prime minister was, I felt that he owed me responses to my questions. He was a public servant and I was a citizen of the state. I still have the letters he sent in response.
When I founded the Hitorerut movement, Jerusalem was in crisis. Mayor Uri Lupolianski had not just failed to bring progress to Jerusalem, his leadership was destroying the city. Many say that Lupolianski was a bad mayor because he was ultra-Orthodox, but I think that misses the mark. He failed because he was a sectarian mayor only interested in representing the narrow interests of specific national parties. Hitorerut initially gained strength from those who were not represented in the municipality at the time, but who loved Jerusalem too much to leave. Our goal was always to be a party that provided a voice for all Yerushalmim who wanted to work to build Jerusalem.
Ten years later, I can say that we have succeeded. Hitorerut members represent many different political and religious traditions. Our list and activists are women and men; haredi, religious, traditional and secular Jews; members of the national left, center and right.
I contend that Hitorerut’s success in the municipality (where we are among the biggest parties) and in the polls (which we are decisively leading) should be a national story. How was it that we were able to achieve this?
The answer is actually simple. We do what has been done for thousands of years and allow for the idea and the city of Jerusalem to unite a disparate people. Every single discussion we have ever had in Hitorerut meetings has centered on one question: What is best for the city?
Because we have never been allied with any national party, we do not have to keep to any party dogma. As a result, we attracted all types of Jerusalem resident volunteers who shared our love for the city.
Among Hitorerut’s many achievements I can count ones as varied as reducing bureaucracy for small businesses, finding solutions for abandoned apartment buildings, organizing groups of apartment buyers in Ramot, working with the JDA to create the infrastructure to bring an additional 300 tech startups to Jerusalem, providing additional support to youth movements that incorporate olim, organizing cleanups of the city streets, improving the municipal response for at-risk youth, planning the first cultural events in the shuk, successfully challenging the Egged monopoly over Jerusalem, renovating business centers, helping to improve transportation infrastructure in Pisgat Ze’ev, increasing funds available to fight sexual harassment, creating a municipal framework for August daycare and many more.
Are these achievements left wing? Right wing? Do they signify an attempt to subvert religion or fail to provide for the needs of Jerusalem’s religious community? Unfortunately, there are many politicians in the city who are only capable of filtering their decisions through these lenses. They fail to understand that Yerushalmim, Zionist, haredi and Arab, are looking for solutions to their day to day problems, not divisive rhetoric shouted from municipal platforms confused for the Knesset plenum. They also seem frustrated that so many of their own base have moved to Hitorerut whose list includes members of Likud, Labor, Jewish Home, Meretz, Yachad and others.
This dedication to Jerusalem over posturing is why we proudly supported Nir Barkat’s candidacy during the previous campaign. It is why we protested when Mr. Barkat signed a deal with the Ashkenazi haredi community that directly hurt the city’s Zionist population. It is also why I simply do not understand how Ze’ev Elkin, unquestionably a Zionist hero, can happily receive support from the Peleg Yerushalmi, the most extreme Haredi political group, which violently protests the draft, literally defaces advertisements that include women and which constantly disrupts the lives of the residents of the city. Politicians must have clear ideological goals and red lines.
Moving forward, I can assure every resident of Jerusalem that as your next mayor I will remain 100% dedicated to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not my springboard to a national career, but the ultimate focus of my energies and hopes. For the coming term, I will work to fulfill the platform of our party, which you can read in English here. While I cannot briefly summarize all of its 80 pages, I can say that we will make sure that this city is cleaner, that affordable housing be built, that olim will receive attention with a focus on keeping them in the city, that public transportation will improve, that neglected Haredi and Arab communities will receive support to encourage employment and education, that needless business regulations will be removed, that local artists are supported and more. All of these steps will improve Jerusalem’s economic, cultural and social standing. I encourage everyone to read the platform, which is the envy every party in the race and those around Israel.
I wrote those letters to the Prime Minister expecting him to answer because I felt that he owed a citizen of his state answers no matter that citizen’s status. As much as politicians may be deified, we must never forget that they are not above those who elected them, but are there to serve. As your mayor, I will serve everyone as we participate in the once seemingly impossible dream of building Jerusalem.
So when you stand in the voting booth vote for a mayor who is dedicated to the city and focused only on the needs of its residents. Vote for Ofer Berkovitch and Hitorerut.