In the recent municipal elections, Nir Barkat was re-elected (by a slim 51%) for a second five-year term as mayor of Jerusalem. But the make-up of the city council is somewhat different from the previous election. First, there are two more Ultra-Orthodox representatives: one more for Shas (Sephardi Orthodox party), most likely due to extra votes in sympathy for the recently deceased Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and one new representative of a one-man opposition slate to the traditional United Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi Orthodox). Second, Barkat’s own party lost two seats and Meretz lost one — but they were re-distributed among other more or less pluralist parties.
Third, a new national religious party got two seats (which together with the “Bayit Hayehudi” meant the three seats held previously by the National Religious Party were maintained but distributed differently). But the new religious party includes a representative by the name of Aryeh King, who belongs to the extreme right and spent most of his life — and campaign — talking about how to keep Arabs out of the city, or how to force them to leave.
King publicized the fact that he has the “blessings” of Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, who has been accused of racist activity and gave a psak halacha saying that it was forbidden to sell or rent apartments to non-Jews. Eliahu also called for the Arab students in the Tzfat College (where he lives) to be chased out of town. King also founded a fund to try to buy land in Palestinian neighborhoods and settle Israelis in them. He is responsible for the eviction of countless Arabs from their homes by a variety of business and legal maneuvers, including an exercise that gave title of houses back to the heirs of Jewish homes from before 1948; if expanded without racist preference for Jews, it opens up cross claims by Arabs for properties all over Jerusalem. Until this round of legal work, all legal title went back only to 1948.
Shockingly, Nir Barkat has decided to include Aryeh King in his new coalition. In fact, his
agreement with King’s party was one of the first signed to establish the new coalition. Parties that openly backed Barkat or have worked with him in the past have not yet settled on agreements with the newly re-elected mayor, whereas parties that supported his opponent or remained unaligned have already been signed on. “United Jerusalem,” for example, did not endorse Nir Barkat — but was immediately courted by Nir and is now to be part of the municipality’s governing coalition.
Meretz, a left-wing party that was in Barkat’s coalition last term (and is the party I represent today in the city council, now part of a joint list with the Labor Party), asked from the outset that King not be part of the coalition. A petition to that effect has been gaining wide support on the Internet. Many people turned out to a protest today at a site where the mayor was giving a speech, calling him to remove King from the coalition.
Yet as it now stands, having to choose between a two-man party with a racist platform (“United Jerusalem”) or an activist party for social justice (Meretz), Barkat has chosen the racist partner. It is quite a blow to the mixed and pluralist city that Jerusalem is to have such a party in the city management, and it is a stain both on the mayor and on his other coalition partners that a party to the right of France’s Le Pen is accepted without contest.
One can only hope that some outside pressure — including perhaps some readers of this blog? — will help Barkat realize how damaging and dangerous it is to legitimize a man like King. I invite you to express your opinion: http://lishka.jerusalem.muni.il/