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A conversation with Dan Birron, mayoral candidate

by josh November 09 2008
InterviewCity planningEnvironmentMunicipal news

Dan Birron and the Green Leaf team

At 68, musician, TV producer and pub owner Dan Birron is the unlikely face of a political party that once espoused legalizing marijuana as the cornerstone of its platform. Then again, given his long, scraggly hair and chilled out personality, maybe he is the perfect face. Born in Jerusalem when it was still part of Palestine, Birron was recently recruited to be Aleh Yarok's - or, the Green Leaf Party's - main man in Jerusalem. As a third- or fourth-party candidate for mayor, Birron has taken a Ralph Nader-like backseat in the race (to Arkady Gadyamak's Ross Perot). he's not just running on legalizing it, though. With a platform that addresses issues like clean streets, 24/7 public transportation and more funding for the arts, Birron is hoping to at least secure a seat on the city council, and maybe even steal the whole damn thing.

What about Jerusalem culturally makes it ripe for a Green Leaf administration? This is a maybe the first thing, the first item, in our platform. Do you know that the Jerusalem budget for supporting cultural activities is about 8 million NIS a year? In Tel Aviv it's 115 million, in Haifa it's about 80, 84 million. In RishonHave a beer on him. get it? beer-on? Birron? forget it. Letzion, the orchestra gets more money than all the activities in Jerusalem. We think it's not luxury. It’s a basic need of every human being. And what can I do, when the municipality ignores it? So the first thing to do, maybe, because this is my field - I am a TV director - would be to take care of this.

Please paint a picture for us of Jerusalem with you as her mayor. What kinds of green spaces would you create? How would you balance that with the city's needs for construction development? I have a vision. I cannot say how far I can go, but I wouldn't allow the building of skyscrapers in town - in the center of town. If they want to do that, then please do it in the periphery. But the city of Jerusalem should be preserved. This is an old city and this our tradition and this is the face of our city. During these five last years the city became so dirty, they clean maybe the main streets, but look at the yards of the houses. There should be a fine on everybody who doesn't clean his own yard. Jerusalem should be clean. It should be light and not dark.

If you were in office, how would you improve the city's cultural, nightlife, entertainment and performing arts landscapes? This is my field. I was a TV producer and director and was acting in Jerusalem for many years. But you have to do everything in spite of the municipality. Not only do they not support you, but they are trying to push you away. I think you have to encourage every group and every individual that is involved with being creative. There are so many, but they don't get support, and they must leave and seek other places where they can act and they can put on a show. In Jerusalem there is barely one orchestra, which is fighting for funding. One and a half theaters. Not enough galleries, libraries, not enough activities of arts and entertainment. And the youngsters have to go to Tel Aviv or the beach to see big shows. They don't want it in Jerusalem for many reasons. But the main reason is that nobody gives a damn about the luxury. It's not a luxury, it’s a basic need. It excites me because there is so much - so many talents. They let all the brains leave.

Legalization of marijuana was once pretty much the only issue championed by your party. Although Green Leaf has since diversified its platform, marijuana is still one of its cornerstones. Please put this issue in the context of your vision for the future of Jerusalem. Would there be Amsterdam-like coffee shops? Los Angeles-like "farmacies"? Or just more liberty afforded to individuals? Frankly, the marijuana is not an issue in the municipal elections. It's something to pass the laws in the elections. It is not an issue in Jerusalem, and I am not Birron postersgoing to do anything about that. In most of the Western countries like Holland, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden and even the Czech Republic now, still all of the drugs are illegal, but they came to the conclusion that there is no point in discriminating. The way the world thinks about drugs comes from ignorance. I don't know anybody who died from marijuana, but people do die from tobacco and alcohol, which are much more dangerous. Marijuana helps in many cases. You have to educate, but you don't have to forbid the use of it.

In Israel, there are hundreds of thousands of people who use, who become criminals, but they are good citizens. Maybe you don't like them to do it in public, but don't go in the houses. But Jerusalem may be the most important capital in the world, and I want to see it like Paris, London, Rome and not a place like Bnei Brak. You know the eyes of hundreds of thousands of believers are directed towards Jerusalem. It could be a huge crane to put forward Jerusalem. It should be a city that lights its places.

It can be argued that voter apathy is what brought the Lupoliansky administration into power, since the city's ultra-Orthodox Jewish population made sure to vote, while most others stayed at home. Many of the mayoral candidates seem to be asking Jerusalemites to vote more than they're asking us to vote for anyone specific. The Barkat campaign has even arranged for a carpool network to drive people to the voting centers. What's the best way to get people to vote? In some places in the world, you get a fine if you don't vote. It's not only your right to vote, but I think this is an obligation. Otherwise how can democracy work? You are hurting democracy. Never mind if you vote for me - of course I would like that - but anyway it’s a must to vote, because we must know the will of the population. So if everybody votes, the results will tell you what you have to go for, and of course, you have to take care of all the citizens. You have to calculate for the benefit of everybody. I would say it’s a must. We must call on everybody to go and take part.

You are not expected to receive anywhere near a majority of the votes. Why continue with the campaign? Frankly, a painter is not drawing his pictures so that he can please the owner of the gallery. A poet doesn’t write songs if he thinks the radio station will like it. You do it from your heart. I believe in what I am standing for, and I am running against three millionaires. It's [Meir] Porush, [Nir] Barkat and Arkadi Gadyamak. I am secular. The people don't see in Barkat the right person to represent that, because he went too far - he took too far his steps to the right, and he promises all kinds of things. He made deals, and then [Avigdor] Leiberman began supporting him, and now he went and said he will build a Jewish neighborhood in Anata. All of this leads us to believe that he is not the ideal candidate for the secular voters in Jerusalem. So I would go and say to the people, "I am your representative - you have to vote for me." I am not a child. I know my votes are very low, but if you got raped, wouldn't you scream? You will be surprised to see how many people will vote for us. I would like to have in the council as many people who will seek for pluralist, free -minded delegates.

What are your favorite places to relax and enjoy a beer or a cocktail or a coffee when you need a break from your campaign? I have a bar I run myself, called the Musical Bistro, where it's not just a place to drink beer. Every night there is live music and every night different people are playing there. There is no minute of the day I am not working.

Photo of the Green Leaf 2008 dream team (top, with Birron in the middle) courtesy of the Green Leaf Party; photo of a pensive Birron at the recent Great Synagogue mayoral debate courtesy of Ariel Jerozolimski; photo of Birron-themed street propaganda juxtaposed with defaced Porush-themed street propaganda by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite.

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