When the embattled secular-left Jewish sector in Jerusalem went to vote for a new mayor in November 2008, they faced an extremely unappetizing choice: Elect either Nir Barkat, a secular millionaire businessman, who was known for his right-wing proclivities and an affiliation with Yisrael Beiteinu; or vote in ultra-Orthodox (‘haredi’) Rabbi Meir Porush of Agudat Yisrael.
Fearing the growing ‘haredization’ of their city, most of the secular left — unfortunately and admittedly a minority in Jerusalem — threw its support behind Barkat, who won with 52% of all the votes cast.
Now some are regretting their decision, as Barkat has been using his position to aid and abet efforts to expand Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, including within the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods.
Following Barkat’s involvement in the Shepherd’s Hotel and Ramat Shlomo settlement initiatives (last year and in March, respectively), his most recent move is a plan to demolish 22 homes in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which borders on the Old City, in order to make way for, of all things, an Israeli tourism center.
As one would expect, Meretz was the only party in Barkat’s wall-to-wall municipal coalition that voted against the plan; as a result of which, Barkat expelled Meretz’s three city council members from his coalition and sacked Meretz’s deputy mayor, Pepe Alalu.
Alalu has now given a fascinating interview to Haaretz about the affair, as well as about the more general intersection between Jerusalem’s local and Israel’s national politics. Alalu has set a goal of unseating Barkat in the next elections – not by throwing his weight behind a haredi politician, but by fielding a “worthy secular candidate”. Let’s hope that he can pull it off.