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The great mayoral slate debate of 2008

by michael October 31 2008
Municipal news

Jerusalem mayoral candidates

Imagine, if you will, the mayoral candidates for Washington D.C. holding a Spanish-language debate and Q&A session in the city's largest Evangelical mega-church, with two of the major candidates mostly unable to speak Spanish, and one of those mostly unable to speak English to boot. Doesn't sound feasible, does it? Well, it isn't - but in Israel, nobody bats an eye at the direct equivalent. Last Saturday, the major candidates for the Jerusalem mayoralty (Nir Barkat, Meir Porush, Arcadi Gaydamak and Dan Birron) met for a supposedly English-language debate in front of a largely Anglo audience in the Great Synagogue. And, as intrepid Jerusalem blogger Molly at The Big Felafel reports...hijinks ensued.

The night’s follies began with an under-prepared Great Synagogue staff unable to accommodate over a thousand Anglos that showed up to the event. While everyone was trying to push their way in to the building, I noticed that the security went to lock all the doors…that seemed safe…

Then after they opened one door they refused to let the press in. That’s right, they refused the reporter from The Economist, BBC, and even the photographer from The Jerusalem Post (who hosted the event).

Of course the staff and security claimed they were over capacity and couldn’t let anyone else in. Did I mention that Nir Barkat and his entourage hadn’t arrived yet. Were they not going to let him in to his own debate? And, with people already sitting on the staircases and standing in open places, the synagogue was clearly already breaking the law, so their point was baseless.

Ok, so the mob scene was the first act in the comedy showcase but the best was yet to come.

Haredi Santa Claus Meir Porush spoke first, although not in English. It's not his fault, though - if the debate had been held in, say, Talmudic Aramaic, or the elaborate, duplicitous code language of modern Israeli politics, he would have dominated the room. Instead he mostly talked about housing for his constitue...er, everyone.

Afterwards, dark horse candidate Dan Birron, running on Aleh Yarok's well-developed platform of "OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, THEY'LL TAKE AWAY THE BACON! SPEAKING OF BACON, IS ANYONE ELSE SUPER HUNGRY RIGHT NOW?" did Jerusalem's social liberals no favors by apparently showing up blazed. Time and place, dude. Time and place. Ganja is for Nachlaot, not politics.

And then came Arcadi. What Gaydamak's illicit billions have not been able to buy for him (politically, anyway) is the crucial ability to pander on the fly. The fugitive tycoon, whose English is nearly as bad as his Hebrew, has been courting the sympathies of religious Israelis by buying the threatened Bikur Cholim hospital and threatening to buy and render kosher the super-treyf Tiv Taam supermarket chain, and spent the debate squandering all that by talking at length to the mostly-religious, mostly-conservative crowd about his goal of complete social equality for Israeli Arabs. Right idea, wrong crowd, tovarisch.

And Barkat finally showed up, looking and sounding incongruously mayoral. In fluent English. Show-off.

Admittedly, much of day-to-day life in Jerusalem approaches the farcical - or at least we interpret it that way to keep from going crazy - but a serious debate between serious candidates for the position of mayor of a world capital, a city vitally important to billions of people, should not seem like Saturday Night Live, only funny. Right?

Jerusalemite's coverage of the Jerusalem mayoral elections will continue.

Photo of the Great (Synagogue) debate courtesy of Ariel Jerozolimski.

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