Jerusalem mayor and tensions with ultra-Orthodox Jews

Jerusalem on a cloudy day. October 30, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Photo: Jerusalem on a cloudy day, 30 Oct 2009/Darren Whiteside

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. Nir Barkat walks through a Jerusalem market while he was running for mayor last year. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (JERUSALEM)

Nir Barkat campaigning for mayor last year in a Jerusalem market, 6 Nov 2009/Baz Ratner

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.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

The “Shabbat Wars”–to be continued?

ISRAEL-RELIGION/ It's hard to imagine that a quarrel over a municipal parking lot could not only lead to blows, but could possibly drag the Prime Minister into getting involved. At least, that's what a member of the Labor party called for on Sunday, says the Jerusalem Post. Now, police are investigating threats to the Jerusalem mayor's life.

This is the aftermath of the latest battle in the ongoing "Shabbat Wars" between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat over opening a municipal parking lot on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath (See Reuters coverage of the big protests/rioting that happened Saturday here). Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews rioted against the opening, while around a thousand secular Israelis rallied on Saturday in support of the parking lot opening. Now a Jerusalem City Council representative is resigning over the issue, and the former police commander has condemned Barkat for "insisting on making the wrong decisions" (Read more here).


In spite of these ruffled feathers on the political scene, most of the coverage in the mainstream Israeli media has leaned towards supporting Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat's decision to open a Saturday lot. See this op-ed from Hanuch Daom with Yedioth Ahronoth, which criticizes "the sane elements within the Orthodox community who do not dare to face up [their ultra-religious counterparts] and say: Enough."