I had a rare opportunity to talk with Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat on Sunday about how he spent most of his first year in office trying to find a political homeostasis in the city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The main news that came out of it was his call for the European Union on Monday to reject any future division of the city (read that story here).
We sat together for about an hour in his office on the top floor of the city hall. He has a large balcony that overlooks the modern part of the city from one side, where cranes and crews are hard at work building and developing. The other side overlooks the walled Old City, a view that has highlighted the hilly Jerusalem landscape for centuries.
Much of our discussion focused on the city’s ultra-Orthodox community, which has been volatile since the secular Barkat took office a year ago. He was elected in a political battle between the city’s secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews. The Orthodox have protested, often violently, against issues and policies they see challenging their way of life — ranging from the opening of an Intel electric plant and parking lot on the Sabbath, and even a medical case involving police and the mother of a young boy.
Barkat surprised me by shrugging off the religious uproar as “noise.” Looking ahead, he told he will need two to three terms (each four years) to achieve his vision. That vision, by the way, includes attracting 10 million tourists to visit the city each year — that’s about five times more than today.