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A greener future for Jerusalem?

by josh December 01 2008
City planningEnvironmentMunicipal news

Stand By Me 2: the Coreys do Jerusalem

Don't let the green grass fool you: this is actually in the middle of Jerusalem

Jerusalemite likes things that are green. We like our falafel green. We like our voodoo juices green. We like our East Jerusalem garbage bins green. We even like our not-pagan-at-all religious ceremonial waving branches green. And our open spaces? Yeah we like those green too.

Though the Safdie Plan has bought the farming co-operative, concerns still remain on how to guard the patchwork of forests that ring the city, as well the creation and protection of green and open spaces inside the city. The election of Nir Barkat as mayor gives hope to many that the grass on this side may be getting greener.

Firstly, he split the construction and planning portfolio in two, giving the green planning half to Naomi Tsur, who founded the Sustainable Jerusalem environmental coalition and has headed the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The choice of Tsur will probably mean the creation of a number of new initiatives inside the city aimed at making it more friendly to both mother nature and its recreation and nature seeking residents.

One project she has already singled out is the proposal to create parkland out of the unused train tracks running from Emek Refaim to Malcha (see picture above). The strip of land has drawn much attention from neighborhood residents who want to turn it into an urban park and biking path, even spawning a blog (in Hebrew) to push their agenda. Last month, Bezalel students began putting up historical markers along the path telling of the neighborhood's history. The city has been mulling plans to use the tracks for roads and/or the light rail project, which itself is being "reconsidered" by Barkat. But Tsur, who has long championed getting Jerusalem to take off its training wheels and build a place for the iron lunged to ride their bikes, will likely be a solid advocate for bike riders in the city. The city still has a long way to go before it looks like Portland, though.

Whatever does happen with sustainable development in Jerusalem, Tsur told The Jerusalem Post that building needs to be in concert with the little people who actually voted her and Barkat into Safra Square's ivory tower.

One immediate change, however, came through clearly - the municipality could not rule from on high, but rather in a "synergy" with the city's residents and civil society.

"What is really lacking is public participation in planning processes. We need a process to get wisdom from neighborhood residents, so we can solve problems, but in a way that makes sense [for local residents]. There hasn't been enough done in the last two decades," Tsur told The Jerusalem Post.

While democracy and alternative modes of transportation are nice, Jerusalemite environmentanista Karin Kloosterman, who blogs for treehugger and, believes that guarding Jerusalem's remaining green oases, including the embattled Gazelle Valley, should be among the top priorities of the Barkat administration, telling Jerusalemite:

"It's the open spaces within and around Jerusalem that worry me most. Jerusalem has existed for thousands of years as a religious and administrative center, and we can see that in the buildings and the archeological remains we find here today. I am most worried, though, that the beautiful pine forests on the outskirts of Jerusalem will be consumed by development in the not so far future. This is the natural treasure of Jerusalem. And I know that everyone who visits Jerusalem goes to the Old City, the Kotel, the churches, mosques, the museums. But it's in the Jerusalem forests where you can actually smell Jerusalem, and in its pine needles hear the faint whisper of King David. Wild animals, like small delicate foxes, still live there. These characteristics of Jerusalem can never be lost. I know that Naomi has made it a passion to protect Jerusalem's open spaces, and her involvement in the city's 'green' politics gives me more reason to believe that there's a God in the sky."

Image courtesy of RahelSharon from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Is Jerusalem still safe for Bambi?

by michael November 25 2008
EnvironmentMunicipal news
You are cute, but must die to make room for a Cafe Hillel


Gazelles versus land developers: the timeless battle rages on.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and a host of well-intentioned artists have been struggling for years to save the titular four-legged ruminant residents of Gazelle Valley, 260 dunams of green space in the shadow of the city's most monstrous apartments, from a host of mustache-twirling robber barons who would like to turn the entire valley into a Zol Po supermarket, or something. And it seemed like they had achieved success when the city government agreed to halt all development plans and turn the Valley into a municipal park. But minor distractions like the law don't matter to the sorts of developers who look at a forest of trees and see a forest of high-rise, mid-income apartments (see under: Plan, Safdie):

The Israel Lands Administration yesterday issued a warning against renting land from a private contractor who illegally took possession of lands in Jerusalem's Gazelle Valley.

The contractor, Zacharia Kahalani, advertised the land in the media. "The advertiser does not hold any right to the land and the Administration has even filed to evict the people who claim to have rights on the land," the Administration's statement reads.
In a telephone conversation with Channel 2's Oded Ben Ami, Kahalani said the property belonged to him. He explained that he had received permission to dig there from the kibbutzim that own the land.

Not only should you not rent Kahalani's land, we also recommend you avoid any barbecues he may invite you to. With only seventeen left in the herd, we can't spare the gazelles.

Also - call Jerusalemite crazy - isn't the illegal seizure of private (or public) land grounds intervention? Not that we're getting any - but, encouragingly, the Magistrate Court has blocked Kahalani's construction in the valley, and that court will hear a case against the developer this week brought by SPNI.

Image courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

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Ain't no party like a Chavatzelet party

by michael November 24 2008
Things to doCity planningMunicipal news

Hadassah College

Good times and green rooms at Hadassah College today

Bit by bit, downtown Jerusalem has been getting treated to a low-key makeover, undergoing pedestrianization (and much-needed sandblasting) in preparation for the panacea for all municipal ills, the light rail. First HaHistradrut Street was turned into a pedestrian mall. There there was all that unpleasantness with the torn-up Jaffa Road. And now, it's HaChavatzelet Street getting some long overdue attention.

The short street connects Jaffa Road, the main artery of central Jerusalem, with HaNeviim Street, the main road of the Russian Compound and also the seam line between downtown Jerusalem and the ultra-Orthodox quadrant of the city. In recent years, Chavatzelet has, in the wake of the Russian Compound nightlife district's downfall, become a nexus for two distinct Jerusalem minority communities: Ethiopian-Israelis, whose pocket of the neighborhood revolves around tasty restaurant Ethio-Israel; and young secular Jerusalemites, an endangered breed who cluster together in Uganda, HaTaklit, Sideways, distinctly non-kosher restaurant Chavatzelet and an oh-so-countercultural tattoo parlor. But now that the street has been given the Municipal spitshine, all those cool indie kids may scurry away from the light to find a new, seedier part of town (Musrara is hot these days...).

But now is not the time to consider ramifications - now is the time to dance! With renovations to the street complete, Neviim Street institute of higher education Hadassah College threw a commemorative celebration on Friday. Live music and African dancers from the Machol Shalem Dance Festival entertained the masses, and the youth shimmied their way towards a shinier, cleaner Jerusalem.

But just because that the musicians and dancers have gone home, doesn't mean you have to - you can always walk a block and take in the many attractions of HaRav Kook and HaNeviim Streets nearby as well.

Image courtesy of Shay Shenkman.

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Work at home Jerusalemites unite!

by josh November 21 2008
Jerusalemite newsMunicipal news

Co-working at Presentense

Filing TPS reports alone, together

While the café has become the de-facto Dunder-Mifflin for many a freelancer, work-from-home-nik and business traveler, those who take their coffee with a generous serving of Wifi must deal with their own problems, such as the dreaded laptop dillema, and the constant drama of trying to nurse that NIS 18 cafe hafuch for as long as possible until it becomes painfully obvious that it isn’t the resturant's fine brew that brought you to their confines.

Enter PresenTense, the group devoted to fostering Jewish social entrepnuership. Instead of letting you wallow at Aroma, they have set up a coworking space at 64 Emek Rafaim, a veritable office for those with none. For a fee, workers, or the unemployed who want to feel like they still have jobs, can rent out a space in their building, whether it be a desk or a conference room, and have access to printers, fax, internet, coffee and of course, each other.

"The real key to having a coworking space is you're no longer alone. You don't need to ask a stranger to watch your laptop, or pay NIS 12 for a cup of coffee," Co-founder Ariel Beery said.

The space isn't just for loners looking for a desk, though.

"A lot of the troubles that are affecting non profits are that they simply don't have the money to pay rent, so what we do is we give them a storefront on Emek Refaim, a respectable aplce for them to meet with people," he said.

Just like a café, working at PresenTense's Jerusalem Hub ain't free. Fees range from NIS 30 for the basic chair and desk to NIS 750 a month for what amounts to a personal office, complete with lockable storage space and dedicated desk.

PresenTense, which places a premium on innovation, are the first to bring the coworking concept to Israel, though it has been a widely used idea throughout the western world since 2007 as office spaces with witty names like Independents Hall in Philadelphia and Manhattans Nutopia workspace have popped up.

So far the space has attracted 12-15 nomadic workers a day, both collaborating on projects and working on their own.

"We really felt Jerusalem could be a world leader in social innovation," co-founder Aharon Horwitz said. "All it needed was a hub."

Image of non Mike Judge related office space courtesy of PresenTense.

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Taking out the trash in east Jerusalem

by michael November 14 2008
Municipal news

Five years ago, the Palestinian east Jerusalem neighborhood of Kfar Ekev was cut off from the rest of the city by the security fence, and municipal services completely ceased. Now, finally, the neighborhood has gained some token acknowledgment by the city's government in the form of....

Kfar Ekev's new bins

400,000 NIS worth of new trash bins! Sixty in all, to be precise. It ain't the light rail exactly, but it's a fresh-smelling start.

Hopefully, unlike the reliably short-lived municipal trash bins of Meah Shearim and Geulah, nobody will set these on fire as the opening salvo in healthy municipal political dialogue....

Photo of Kfar Ekev's new fleet of dumpsters courtesy of the Jerusalem Municipality.

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Congratulations Jerusalem Mayor-elect Nir Barkat

by harry November 12 2008
Municipal news
Ballot method - old school.

Well, there is hope in the air. It seems that Jerusalem's citizens have finally got it together, taken their city back, and will no longer settle for the status quo. Congratulations Mr. Barkat- with Jerusalem being ranked last in livability among Israel's 15 largest cities in a recent survey conducted by The Marker and Ha'ir, it seems that you have your work cut out for you. Poverty, bad education, a barely working workforce and the all too talked about brain drain of promising youngsters leaving the city for greener groves are just a few of the problems on your plate. There's also the light rail of course. But you bring us hope Mr. Barkat, with your ambitious plans to increase the paltry 8 million NIS budget for cultural activities, renew the city's educational system, rain hellfire on the mismanagement of the light rail, bring millions more tourists to Jerusalem in the coming years, creating jobs, and once again establishing Jerusalem in its rightful place as the center of the world.

Mayoral results

Nir Barkat: 50.77% - 112604 votes

Meir Porush: 42.05% - 93257 votes

Arcadi Gaydamak: 3.51% - 7789 votes

Dan Birron: 3.17% 1087

City Council results

The following results are estimates based on the numbers each party received. To garner a seat on city council a party needed approximately 8000 votes. Surplus votes from other parties and votes from soldiers will alter the landscape. There are several seats still up in the air.  We'll be keeping this page updated throughout the day.

Yahadut HaTorah/Agudat Yisrael/Degel HaTorah: 53,550 = 8 seats

Nir Barkat's Jerusalem Will Succeed: 39,133 = 6 seats

Shas: 29,824 = 4 seats 

National Religious Party: 21,290 = 3 seats

Meretz: 17639 = 3 seats 

Yerushalayim Beitenu (Jerusalem is our Home): 9,451 = 2 seats

Hitorirut Yerushalayim (Wake Up Jerusalem): 15,658  = 2 seats 

Likud: 8,410 = 1 seat

L'ma'an Yerushalayim: 7734 = 1 seat

Pisgat Ze'ev party: 7627 = 1 seat

Statistics and election results appear courtesy of the Ministry of Interior.

Photo of ballots by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite.

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Get out the vote

by michael November 11 2008
Municipal news

Jerusalemite loves the smell of democracy in the morning. And so do the colorful characters of the beloved '70s-vintage bourekas musical Kazablan:


Well, actually, they're pretty ambivalent about it. But that's no excuse for you to be. Today is your chance as a citizen of Jerusalem to help direct the city's future. So hie thee to a polling station. If you need help finding one, simply SMS your teudat zehut number to 052-999-1854, and you'll receive a reply informing you of the nearest voting location. Handy!

And if you still need help making up your mind, don't miss all of Jerusalemite's exclusive coverage of the mayoral campaign...

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A light (rail) at the end of the tunnel

by michael November 10 2008
City planningBridge of StringsMunicipal news
Bridge of Strings

No, just kidding. We're nowhere near seeing a completed light rail. But after years of "work" and the curiously rushed, corner-cutting construction of the Chords Bridge, the train inches closer to becoming a reality (or at least to meeting its next major delay) this week with an agreement between the major parties - the Municipality, the City Pass group, the French contractors and laughing-all-the-way-to-el-banco architect Santiago Calatrava himself - to begin structural and technical tests on the Chords Bridge in preparation for track-laying.

Wait. What? It took five months following the completion and dedication of the 220 million NIS bridge for the people behind it to get together and make sure they could fit some train tracks on it? Did anyone ask Calatrava if he made sure during the design phase to accommodate the weight of a fully loaded train as well, or will that require some more tests down the line? 

And while this international gaggle ponder whether the addition of train tracks will cause the Chords Bridge to fall apart into its component spans, cables and misplaced hopes, track-laying work on Jaffa Road has now made it all the way up to the Machane Yehuda market. Perhaps having learned from the terrible effect construction had on the street's businesses in the city center, the Municipality actually bothered to meet with Machane Yehuda merchants to determine the best way to keep the market lively and facilitate pedestrian traffic while the tracks go in. 

And now, Jerusalemite will take bets as to when the Jaffa Road tracks meet up with the soon-to-be-laid tracks that will emerge from the pile of rubble formerly known as the Chords Bridge. 2015? 2020? The Messianic Era? Let us know.

Photo of Santiago Calatrava's Bridge of Strings by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite.

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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.... (For more questions with Green Leaf Party mayoral candidate Dan Birron, click here.)
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Choose your poison: a Jerusalem election primer

by simone November 07 2008
Municipal newsBridge of StringsCity planningInterviewNews

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:

Nir BarkatNir Barkat

Age: 49

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?

Meir PorushMeir Porush  

Age: 54

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.

Arcadi GaydamakArkady Gaydamak (aka Arieh Bar Lev)

Age: 56

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…).

Happy voting!

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.

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