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Choose your poison: a Jerusalem election primerby simone • November 07 2008
Municipal news, Bridge of Strings, City planning, Interview, News
With Jerusalem's municipal elections upon us this Tuesday, Jerusalemite spoke with journalist Avi Fogel, who's been covering the race for City Hall for the local Kol Ha'ir weekly newspaper. Fogel gave us a brief run-down on the candidates, the system and the craziness that is our local government. Although Fogel himself is a relative newcomer to the politics game (his usual beat is local laws and the police that enforce them), he has been eating, sleeping and breathing municipal elections for the past four months.
According to Fogel, Jerusalem's municipal political scene is complex, since "The mayor can't really be involved in what's going on in his own city: He can give his opinion, but that doesn't mean anyone will listen. He can say we won't talk about dividing Jerusalem, but at the end of the day, it's not the mayor's decision, it's the Knesset's decision.... So from a legal standpoint the mayor can't be involved with the city's major political issue. He can only deal with how clean the streets are, or the other services the municipality deals with - but not with the larger issues Jerusalem is facing."
That said, here's his low-down on the three top contenders for the city's top spot:
Political accomplishments to date: Barkat has been the opposition leader in the Jerusalem City Council since 2003. A successful businessman, he first entered the political fray four years ago, running for mayor and losing by a small margin. Since then, he's been involved in bringing issues affecting non-charedi Jerusalemites to the table at City Hall. A major opponent of the Bridge of Strings project, Barkat has argued that the money should have been used for education instead. Ha also fought against the decision to over-clothe the Bridge dancers, and was able to bring about some sort of a compromise, but as a member of the opposition, he was more involved in opposing, rather than creating, policy.
Primary platform: Barkat's main issues are education – he wants to allocate more money for the capital's educational infrastructure – and stemming the population drain by strengthening academic institutions, reducing housing prices and providing rent subsidies to university students. Barkat has also promised to attract between 10 and 15 million tourists a year to Jerusalem, opining that the city is not utilizing its full potential as a tourist destination and that increased tourism will equal increased municipal revenues. And, despite the fact that at the end of the day it’s a Knesset decision and not a municipal one, Barkat is throwing the undivided Jerusalem card, establishing a national initiative campaigning against the division.
Cultural platform: "Culture is a big issue for Barkat," says Fogel. "Jerusalem's cultural institutions are currently suffering from a lack of funding, because the municipality hasn't transferred the money they were allocated – i.e. their budgets are not being paid. First and foremost, Barkat wants to ensure that Jerusalem's culture institutions receive the funding they are due." Barkat has claimed that the current city government is subtly trying to strangle nightlife and cultural institutions that operate on Shabbat by withholding their funding. Barkat has vowed to support Jerusalem's cultural institutions financially and institutionally, hoping not only to increase the capital's cultural standing, but to stem the youth drain as well. After all, if theater and nightclubs can't keep 'em around, what will?
Political accomplishments to date: The ultra-Orthodox Porush has served in the Knesset since 1996 as part of United Torah Judaism (an amalgam of Porush's own Agudat Israel party and the Degel HaTorah party) though as a Knesset member, "Porush was not all that active politically. He wasn't an initiator," says Fogel. Aside from comparing Ariel Sharon to Benito Mussolini in a well-publicized 2005 controversy, though, "He had a job and he did it; he was very neutral. As they say, 'He didn't hurt, and he didn't help.'" Prior to his stint in the Knesset, Porush served as deputy mayor under Teddy Kollek, so he does have some experience in the Jerusalem municipal scene - although Fogel points out that the decision to run was not Porush's own. "Porush's party decided that he was their mayoral candidate, so he is their mayoral candidate," he says.
Primary platform: According to Fogel, "Although Porush's campaign speaks about combating population flight and securing employment opportunities, his main platform is the fact that he's the Charedi candidate and everyone knows the Charedi sector will vote for him." However, "It's hard to tell exactly what Porush stands for," Fogel says, since the candidate has not made himself exceedingly available to the media: "He doesn't let his views be known. He's very handled [by former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg among others] and restricted in what he says. During Kollek's reign, Porush worked in the municipality's environmental department, but not even the charedi population knows what he did there."
Cultural platform: Not surprisingly, Porush doesn't go out of his way to address Jerusalem's eclectic cultural landscape. According to Fogel, Porush has said that he doesn’t have a problem with people doing their own thing here in Jerusalem, but he has also never made any promises to strengthen Jerusalem's cultural institutions. "He is not billing himself as a fighter for Jerusalem culture. Now this may be because he will offend his constituency if he talks about it, or it may be his own view, but in any case, he has kept quiet on this issue." For now at least, it seems that Porush is of the live-and-let-live school of thought (as long as that living doesn't cross the borders of his neighborhood). While he supports keeping the roads closed on Shabbat in charedi neighborhoods, he has made no such demands on the rest of the city. "We have to remember, that Porush was only chosen at the Charedi candidate about two months ago [as opposed to Barkat who has been campaigning as opposition leader for many years], so we know far less about him," says Fogel.
Arkady Gaydamak (aka Arieh Bar Lev)
Political accomplishments to date: Like Barkat, Gaydamak's background is in business, not politics. Instead of serving in the city council opposition, however, the arms-dealing Gaydamak has been honing his political skills by buying up the Beitar soccer team as well as Bikur Cholim Hospital (which serves a largely charedi population), and financing respite programs for Katyusha-plagued northern residents and Qassam-afflicted Sderoters. According to Fogel, "Gaydamak is known as a man with a lot of money, who gives a lot to the community, but people are often wary of his support. People are suspicious of his motives. They think he is giving them money so they will vote for him at a later date."
Primary platform: Gaydamak too has pledged to fight Jerusalem's population drain and bring new jobs to the city. He claims that his connections in the business world make him the ideal man to bring new business and new investments to Jerusalem. Gaydamak also plans to invest more money in Jerusalem's higher education institutes and provide greater support to students and young people - so that they can choose to stay in the city as residents and not just as students.
Cultural platform: This Russian playboy has big plans for improving the city's nightlife. In fact, one of his major supporters recently sent letters to the current mayor protesting the fact that Jerusalem's Culture Department currently lacks a director. "This is a big part of Gaydamak's campaign," Fogel asserts. "He wants to know why the municipality is not doing anything about the cultural life in this city, why they are withholding funds and why they are letting culture die. He wants to revive it."
The (brief) low-down on City Council
As if choosing a mayor wasn't choice enough, there are scores of parties running for city council. For a party to make it onto the 31-seat council (only the mayor's six deputies receive a salary), they need to receive a minimum number of seats. Once they have passed that threshold, they need a smaller percentage of the vote to receive additional seats.
Fogel claims that because of this system, and general voter apathy (except in the charedi sector), it is almost impossible to tell which parties will garner seats. Apparently, only 38 percent of eligible voters bothered to show up at the polls for the last municipal elections, and Fogel fears a similar trend this time around as well - a trend which will most likely hurt Barkat and his party. "This year, the main fight is for mayor and not city council," Fogel says. "Every candidate also has a city council list, plus there are numerous other lists."
Fogel fears that smaller parties like Wake Up Jerusalem (Hitorerut Yerushalmim, which has already merged with the Yerushalmim party) will fail to hit the threshold required to make it into the city council, but will succeed in splitting the secular vote, causing the council to swing charedi, where there are fewer parties and the vote is more controlled. Apparently there is a movement underway to unify all the secular parties onto one list so that they achieve the critical mass needed to make it onto the city council. With one unified party, it will also be easier for the mayor to form a coalition and pass laws. But you know Jews - they can never agree on anything, leaving voters to choose between a myriad of options (Hitorrerut-Yerushalmim, Meretz, The Green Party (HaYarokim), Lma'an Yerushalayim, Likud, MAFDAL and Ichud Haleumi, Shas, Yisrael Beitenu to name a few…).
Mayoral candidate Dan Birron was not discussed in this item, because in-depth coverage of his campaign will appear when Jerusalemite's mayoral election-themed content continues in the coming days.
Photo of Arcadi Gaydamak courtesy of Deror Avi.
Fixing the mistake of the lakeby josh • October 28 2008
City planning, Environment, Municipal news
Beit Zayit Reservoir
The green space around Jerusalem skews decidedly toward the western edge of the city, where pine covered hilltops create a shaded parkland much more suited to recreation than the arid desertscape that extends from the city’s eastern end. Hidden among the rolling hills between Ein Kerem and the Sorek valley sits the Beit Zayit reservoir, a body of water that seems invitingly out of place near the normally dry (save for a few springs) Jerusalem. But don’t let the pond’s beauty fool you, says the tourism authority’s Jerusalem Mosaic magazine.
Beit Zayit Reservoir was built in the 1950s by placing a dam on the Sorek River. Aimed at helping replenish the Coastal Aquifer, it was pronounced a failure: most of the water it traps instead makes its way towards the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Its bed is muddy and absorbent, making it hazardous to swimmers and anyone wading into its waters.
The Municipality, with the help of the Mevasseret and Yehuda regional councils, has voted to go ahead with a plan to create a second lake next to the reservoir, this one just for recreation. Boats will be docked on the lake, and swimmers will presumably be able to swim without being sucked into it murky depths. Ancient agricultural artifacts found in the area will also be incorporated into the park, which will be one of four new parks planned to ring the city’s western edge. A 60 kilometer bike track is also planned to cover the four new parks.
The announcement to create the parks comes at a time when many of the country’s environmental organizations are expecting significant drops in donations - a byproduct of the slumping world economy. Even if the government is forced to welch, or postpone, on at least part of its plan, though, Jerusalemites can take comfort in the municipality's claim that the city boasts 85 square meters of green space per resident, making it already one of the greenest cities around.
New benches will keep 'em quietby michael • August 27 2008
City planning, Municipal news
Benches in Katamonim - the wave of the future
Close your eyes, Jerusalemites, and imagine what civic improvement you'd most like to see in Jerusalem.
Photo courtesy of Bosmat Ibi.
Not that far away after allby ben • August 21 2008
City planning, News
For us here at Jerusalemite, the city's light rail project simultaneously represents everything exciting and everything wrong with Jerusalem. The light rail is the promise of a shiny, rebuilt capital, one with quiet, pleasant streets and efficient public transportation. But the light rail is also the specter of never-ending bureaucratic quagmires, community leaders pushed to their limits and horrible, horrible growing-pain gridlock.
Some conspiracy theorists have gone so far as to question the project's existence. After all, what better way to convince the public to endure endless construction? What better way to convince the federal government and the private sector to invest enormous sums in the future of Jerusalem?
Well, we finally have evidence to support the idea that despite the delays, coordination troubles and other nuisances, the light rail is for real. And it's getting closer every day. On Tuesday, on his drive in, Yaakov from The Aliyah Blog saw and photographed a huge flatbed truck hauling a light rail trolley towards Jerusalem. So now we've got the commuters, the bridge and the electric trolley cars - if only they'd finish laying the tracks already.
Photo of a light rail trolley car on its way to Jerusalem courtesy The Aliyah Blog.
Commuting to the Western Wallby harry • August 20 2008
City planning, Municipal news
One way ticket to Heaven and back?
Back in 2006, the Jerusalem municipality proposed the building of a cable car spanning from Mt. Zion to the Western Wall. The Western Wall, by far Jerusalem’s (and Israel’s) most popular tourist attraction, is also one of its least accessible. The few streets of the Old City open to motor vehicles are almost always congested with traffic and parking spaces are few and far between, with public parking completely nonexistent. Folks currently have to rely on the all too inconvenient public transportation, a taxi or their feet to get to the Western Wall plaza.
Jerusalem Transportation official Shmuel Elgrably told The Jerusalem Post back in 2006 that "engineers and city officials studying among other things its economic feasibility, could get off the ground within three years of approval." Needless to say, almost three years have passed and nothing has come of it. With the enormous projected number of tourists set to visit in the next few years, a solution is needed - and Jerusalemite appreciated that this one found its inspiration in a small, yet important, piece of Israeli history most people aren't even aware of.
Located on Hebron road not far from the Cinematheque lies the Mt. Zion Cable Car Museum. This small (and free!) museum tells the story of the cable car set up by the Hagana during the War of Independence that was used to transport materials to the Harel Brigade on Mt. Zion. The small cable car was only used for six months, but the Israel Defense Forces claim that it was in working order up until 1967. It was used only at night and taken down before sunrise as not to be detected by Jordanian forces. The cable car is on display at the museum as well as details of its uses.
Yes, that's right. More construction ahead but this time it will actually displace people from their homes. And a tunnel will be built through Mt. Zion. So if simply building an infrastructure for the light rail was so problematic what can we expect when they actually have to build a tunnel?
An International Convention Center deserving of the nameby michael • August 18 2008
City planning, Municipal news
Extreme Makeover: Binyanei HaUma Edition
The International Convention Center (Binyanei HaUma) is Jerusalem's largest convention center, but as the city lurches fitfully toward its goal of becoming an international business and pleasure destination, a European-style metropolis where worldly sophistication meets old-world charm, the 50-year-old complex of buildings has increasingly proven itself not up to the task. The blah architecture, which could be charitably described as "functionalist," dates back to Israel's early era of socialist austerity, and doesn't meld well with whatever visual statement the Municipality is attempting to make with the Chords Bridge. The interior is not spacious enough to host industry conventions requiring the display of large machinery. Unlike other international conventional centers, the ICC lacks on-site hotel facilities. And it's located smack in the middle of the hot mess that is the road system around the city entrance - easy to see, but hard to actually get to.
The ICC will be enlarged by 30,000 square meters, which will include the doubling of the parking space and three 33-story buildings housing office and commercial space and a hotel of the highest standards - the latter to be built by a private developer at a cost of $100 million. The buildings will also house theaters and cinemas.To be honest, though, when the architect says "for the next 25 years," Jerusalemite gets a little nervous. Sure, he means an ambitious 25-year plan, but given the glacial progress on the light rail, one can easily envision a 25-year construction process instead.
A conversation with Shahar Fisher, activistby simone • August 17 2008
Interview, City planning, Municipal news
After watching too many friends pack their bags and slink off for the shimmering promise of Tel Aviv or other, more foreign, ports, Shahar Fisher decided that the time had come to do something. A fourth generation Jerusalemite and a philosophy major at the Open University, Fisher helped form Hitorerut B'yerushalayim (Wake Up Jerusalem), a political movement designed to fight for Jerusalem's future, and to keep the future in Jerusalem. When he's not busy tending to his cause through planning stunts and maintaining its website's content, Fisher works for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Your organization is concerned with keeping Jerusalem's youth in the city Where does your passion come from, and what made you decide to stay? I think all Jerusalemites are very patriotic about their city. This passion is not mine alone. Wake Up Jerusalem started with a group of seven, and as we began to hold events and our work got publicized in the media, our organization grew, and we now we have 70 people working for us (on a volunteer basis) and 500 more who are interested. There are 5,000 people on our mailing list. This is in only two months of operation. The situation in Jerusalem - housing, jobs, culture, education - is causing the youth to leave, and no one is giving them a good enough answer to their needs. If there are no young people in Jerusalem, there is no future in Jerusalem, so a group of us decided to do something, to start a movement.
One of the factors affecting youth flight is Jerusalem's soaring housing prices, a large part of which can be attributed to foreign absentee investors. I know that London has a "ghost apartment" tax which is being batted around as a model for Jerusalem. How can Jerusalem strike a balance between measures like these and the important influx of foreign cash? I don't think anyone wants to see Jerusalem closed off to outsiders. Jerusalem is a universal city, a city for everyone - even if you're living out in Wisconsin, Jerusalem is still your city. On the other hand, the problem of "ghost apartments" is really serious. The only apartments being built here these days are luxury apartments, and it's driving prices up to ridiculous highs. We don’t want to kick the foreign owners out; we just want to create solutions where the apartments won't be empty.There are a number of possible solutions. We can promote the rental of empty apartments to students who will live there and be responsible for the apartment's maintenance. The London tax would help do this by giving owners an incentive not to leave their apartments empty. The municipality can also help by creating affordable housing. In every new complex built, a number of apartments should be earmarked for young couples or other Jerusalemites who can't afford the soaring foreign prices. These are solutions that cities.... (click here for the full interview).
Downtown merchants not digging the diggingby josh • August 13 2008
City planning, Municipal news, Shopping
Downtown's main thoroughfare is officially a big balagan. The most central stretch of Jaffa Rd. has been narrowed by dividers to only accommodate one lane of traffic. In the past few days, a makeshift sidewalk in what used to be the middle of the street has been erected, in order to allow commuters to wait for their buses while intense digging takes place behind their backs.
The Jerusalem municipality and the transportation ministry's actual carrying out of a plan to build a light rail through the heart of Jerusalem has apparently blindsided Jaffa Rd. merchants, who last week found their shops located not in one of the busiest shopping areas of Jerusalem, but instead on a narrow one-way street where nobody would want to be.
Yes, it seems the construction of the Jerusalem light rail has hit the "all hell break loose" phase. Preparations for laying tracks are moving ahead full steam on Jaffa Rd., annoying commuters and angering merchants along the once bustling way, who say the construction will kill their livelihood, according to The Jerusalem Post.
In June, municipal opposition leader and mayoral candidate Nir Barkat confronted Mayor Uri Lupolianski about the merchants at least getting some just compensation, in the form of tax credits, for having to endure the near closure of their road. Lupolianski responded that the merchants did not even want compensation, an argument that probably doesn’t hold much water in light of their loud protestations last week.
In fact, the rift between Lupolianski and the downtown business owners only seems to be widening, not unlike holes in the asphalt, a meeting two days ago between the two parties descending into nasty shouting, finger-pointing, calls made to security forces and even fainting. It was almost as heated as a Knesset floor debate.
Merchants can rest easy knowing the Barkat stands a decent chance of taking over the mayorship in November. Getting a politician to keep to pre-election platitudes may be another story. Hopefully, the 2010 date set for the completion of the tracks will be kept, so long as they plan for where to put the dirt. Getting the rail lines complete will be an important step in untangling Jerusalem's clogged streets and making them more pedestrian- and neighborhood-friendly. Shoppers might flock to Talpiot or Malcha Mall instead of Jaffa Rd. for now, but for many merchants, the once-glorious thoroughfare is all they've got.
Photo of digging in downtown Jerusalem's Jaffa Rd. by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite.
A conversation with Jacqueline Rose, Jerusalem Green Map coordinatorby simone • August 10 2008
Interview, City planning, Environment, Things to do
More cranes than gazelles in and around this valley
Originally from London, Jacqueline Rose made aliyah ten years ago after receiving a Master's Degree in Environmental Studies from London University. Initially a volunteer with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), Jacqueline went on to a storied career in the environmental field, including stints with the Judaism and Environment Think Tank at Machon Lev and the Ministry of Environment, before returning to SPNI as the Green Map Coordinator.
What is the story behind the Green Map? How did it come to be and how did it come to Jerusalem? The Green Map is an international concept. It began in New York - the current Green Map headquarters - around 1995 and has since expanded so that today there are nearly 450 officially recognized Green Maps throughout the world. The Green Map is an attempt to map all social, environmental and cultural sites that cannot be found on a regular tourist map.
The Jerusalem Green Map began in about 2002, after SPNI heard about the Toronto Green Map and thought the concept would work well in Israel. We began collecting data in 2003 and launched the website in 2006. The Jerusalem Green Map is the first Green Map in Israel. In fact, it’s the first Green Map in the entire Middle East. There are currently plans to create Green Maps for Rishon LeTzion and Tel Aviv, but right now we are still the only Israeli Green Map.
Who is the Green Map aimed at? What is it trying to do? The Green Map is for both residents and tourists, for people who want to learn how to enjoy the city in an environmentally friendly way and for people who come to the city often and are looking to do something a little different. There are sites on the Green Map that you won't find elsewhere. For example, the Green Map lists bicycle routes in city, cultural fairs and community gardens. We're trying to emphasize local activities that people might not be aware of. There are over 850 different sites listed on the map – and because it's an internet map, it's very dynamic and is constantly being updated by numerous volunteers. If somebody notices that a site has closed down or a new one has opened up, we can update the map without having to wait for the next printing.This interview is being published on Tisha B'Av, a time when the Jewish people remember the past destructions of our ancient Jerusalem-based regimes. What are your thoughts about Jerusalem's sustainable and viable long-term growth in this context? I think that it's important to note, especially on Tisha B'Av, the connection between Judaism and environment, and that the historical or ancient Jewish texts that many people think are highly irrelevant in today's modern world actually hold a wealth of knowledge - information, principles, and ethics - that relate to the environment today. At this time of year, when we take the time to remember events that.... (click here for the full interview).
The Municipality isn't wrong, reality isby michael • July 25 2008
Municipal news, City planning
The transliteration isn't inconsistent, you are
Jerusalem is divided into so many neighborhoods - neighborhoods whose names, boundaries and even existence often depend largely on point of view - that even veteran residents can become a bit geographically confused. And if veterans are confused, tourists are absolutely stymied, lost and hungry in "Ge'ulim" while trying to find Baka, so stricken with worry about the difference (if any) between "Ein Kerem" and "Ein Karem" that they, out of fear, never leave the comfortingly Anglophone environs of Ben Yehuda.
And so in keeping with its inimitable and time-honored tradition of sensing a problem and spending a lot of money to make it worse, the Jerusalem Municipality rode in with an armful of signs meant to clearly delineate neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the task of deciding what would actually appear on the signs was apparently delegated, in another inimitable and time-honored Municipality tradition, to morons.
...the English on the new signs is littered with misspellings and Hebrew transliterations which are likely to prove of dubious help to English speakers looking for the German Colony, rather than "HaMoshava HaGermanit," as one sign shows.Jerusalemite's resident language geek smells a whole rotating spit of BS shawarma. Most English speakers would pronounce the vowel in the first syllable of "En Kerem" as an open-mid monophthong ("eh"), as opposed to the diphthong ("ey") implied by the normal spelling "Ein Kerem," which is somewhat closer to the Modern Hebrew pronunciation - although this apparently never occured to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which is more concerned with creating official Hebrew words nobody uses or knows for concepts like "Internet" or "telenovela." And by tossing out sensible transliteration, the Academy also blurs the important distinction between the Hebrew vowels tzeire (the "ey" in "Ein") and segol (the "eh" in "Kerem"). And furthermore, were the Municipality really concerned with following extremely nitpicky rules of Hebrew transliteration or, uh, being at all consistent, "En" should be written with an apostrophe at the beginning to indicate the guttural pronunciation of the letter ayin (like in the new "Giv'at Ram" neighborhood sign) - but they're not. They are, however, lazy.
But Jerusalemite almost hesitates to criticize the Municipality any further. If it's pointed out to them that "HaMoshava HaGermanit" or "HaGiv'ah HaTsarfatit" make no sense to anyone who doesn't speak Hebrew (i.e. most tourists) and should be rendered as "German Colony" and "French Hill," they might decide with characteristic dimness to replace all transliterated-Hebrew neighborhood signs with literal English translations. "Machane Yehuda" would become "Judah's Camp," "Nachlaot" would become "Estates," "Ein Kerem" would become "Vineyard Spring" and
"Meah Shearim" would become "One Hundred Gates" - and it would all be Jerusalemite's fault.
Or maybe that's not such a relevant concern, because it's not as if the Municipality pays attention to complaints:
"If mistakes were made in tourism book guides, that is not the responsibility of the municipality, and it is fair to assume that in future years, the authors of these books will change the spellings in accordance with the signs which are transliterated correctly," the city's response concluded.
It is also fair to assume that up is down, and that in future years, the orientation of experiential reality will change in accordance to that fundamental truth.
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