This Tuesday, I plan to vote for Ofer Berkovitch for Jerusalem mayor, and I hope you will too. I am not just addressing this to those who are planning to vote already, but also (and especially) to those who may not be planning to vote, despite being eligible. I will try to be succinct in explaining why.
What I Like about Berkovitch
For starters, I have no doubt about his love for and dedication to this city. I also share his values — a pluralistic and economically strong city. He also clearly knows and understands this city, as someone who grew up here, still lives here and has built a family here.
I like the fact that his party won seven seats on the city council, and is by far the largest party. This means he will not be “going it alone,” and will not just have support and advice from others, but will also have a greater ability to accomplish what he sets out to do.
What I Dislike about Lion
He has made it abundantly obvious in ads and other areas that he is basing his campaign on one sector’s votes: those of the ultra-Orthodox/Haredim. He has made no effort to reach out to other sectors of the city since the runoff was announced via ads or any other means. This is not the type of city I hope Jerusalem will be — one of only specific sectors, rather than all of the residents.
He failed to win a single seat on the city council, meaning he will automatically be beholden to other parties’ interests. He has also not hidden the fact of how closely he is connected to both Aryeh Deri (who according to today’s news looks likely to once again be brought up on corruption charges) and Avigdor Liberman. Even if one likes them as politicians, neither has any direct connection to Jerusalem, and therefore should not be having a say in our city’s politics.
Having listened to Lion in parlor meetings and asked him questions, I do indeed have doubts about his knowledge and understanding of this city. Forget the fact that he moved here just before the previous elections in order to run. It is true that he stuck around, but the words I heard from him indicate to me that he is still out of touch with the city’s residents and ignorant about this city overall.
What about Specific Concerns?
Some say Ofer is anti-Haredi, or will say that the Haredim are a big part of our populace and therefore Lion’s working closely with them is perfectly legitimate. I will say that while Ofer is clearly not a Haredi himself, nothing he has said or done indicates that he is anti-Haredi, and in fact he has on multiple occasions shown a willingness to reach out to them and try to work with them, as any good mayor should. I am not anti-Haredi and am not suggesting that they don’t deserve a say in city politics or shouldn’t be receiving the services they need. What I am against is any one segment of our populace having a disproportionate amount of power and influence. And that is what I see happening if Lion wins. A perfect example is that he has indicated that should he become mayor, he will allow both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis of Jerusalem to be Haredi, as opposed to the arrangement that has been in place for a long time where one has come from the Dati Leumi community. A discussion of the Rabbinate in general is not relevant here. Whether you agree or disagree with the way things are run, this point still makes clear how Lion is willing to kowtow to a narrow interest in order to gain his power.
Other claims against Berkovitch point to his alleged left-wing politics. Unfortunately, other than lots of random and (not surprisingly) anonymous SMS ad campaigns and viral videos, no one can really point to anything that suggests this to be the truth. Clearly he is not an Orthodox person, and in many Jerusalemites’ minds, Orthodox equals right wing and secular equals left wing. In reality, this connection is completely imagined, with plenty of both secular and religious people on all sides of the political spectrum. And in this case, Berkovitch has done and said very little that would put him on any extreme in terms of national politics. He has and does focus on local Jerusalem nitty-gritty issues instead.
The most common complaint leveled at Berkovitch is that he is inexperienced, too young, or any number of other personality-related issues. In all honesty, that is a concern of mine as well. Mind you, I don’t consider this as great a liability as is being stated — he does have some significant experience so far, though not as much as I might like to see. I do believe that some of his plans and ideas are half-baked. But having a strong party behind him will hopefully help mitigate this. And I do have some issues with the way he has handled himself in public discourse at times. But all that being said, I don’t consider any of those to be a great enough liability to outweigh the threats I see from a Lion mayorship. And frankly, while Lion may have some management experience, he has less experience than Berkovitch has on a municipal government level. And let’s not pretend Lion has no personality flaws of his own. It is not as if we are comparing Berkovitch to Teddy Kollek here! We have two options to choose from, so we must compare between them only.
But I’ll take this argument one step further. Let’s say that Berkovitch’s inexperience makes him a largely ineffective mayor for the next five years. Well, you know what? I’d much prefer that to someone who is actually able to accomplish the damage that Lion’s mayorship would bring.
I’ve done a lot of research on these candidates, listened to each of them speak and asked them each direct questions to hear their responses. My personal assessment is that Lion has no original ideas, and that many of the (unoriginal) ideas he does have would both hurt the city economically and destroy the atmosphere and environment of the city as well. And his attitude towards the general citizenry of this city scares me. Berkovitch has put forth a platform with a lot of generic ideas, some interesting and original ones, and indicates an actual understanding and direction for this city. I do believe that some of the planks of the platform could be developed better, but that can come in time.
Which Brings Me to My Plea
If I have written anything here that rings true to you, that makes you worried about a possible Lion mayorship and the effect it will have on this amazing city for the next five years, please don’t just nod your head silently. Please go out on Tuesday and place your vote for Ofer Berkovitch. It is not enough to just root for him to win. He does truly have the chance to win, but it will be a difficult battle. He will need every vote he can get. There were way too few people who voted at all in the first round of the elections. If those who believe in Berkovitch come out in force, he will succeed in defeating Lion and will have the chance to help this city succeed.
I am not a member of Hitorerut, nor am I connected with the campaign in any way. I just care a lot about this city. And I feel that this is my way of doing my part.