My vote for Jerusalem city council

by Brian on February 25, 2024

in In the News,Politics,War in Gaza

Yochi Rappeport is not someone I would expect to see handing out campaign flyers on Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street. And certainly not with the messaging screaming from the page she handed me as I was doing my Friday morning shopping.

Yoshi Rappeport supporting the “Jerusalem Union”

Rappeport is the executive director of Women of the Wall, the feminist group that meets monthly at the kotel(the Western Wall). But the flyer had emblazoned on it photographs of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Aryeh King and Avi Maoz, three of the most right-wing and, in the case of King and Maoz, virulently homophobic politicians on the scene today.

These three henchmen of the liberal apocalypse would be among the first to protest the Women of the Wall. So, why was Rappeport promoting them?

Avi Maoz, Aryeh King, Itamar Ben-Gvir

“Oh my!” she exclaimed when my face fell. “You’re looking at the wrong side!”

And there, on the flip side of the flyer, were the politicians Rappeport supported – members of the new Jerusalem Union list for city council. Their shining, pluralistic punems were meant to counter the scowling hate from the back of the same flyer. The warning (in Hebrew): “It’s time to choose: A messianic Jerusalem or an Israeli Jerusalem?”

The front side of the flyer

I met Rappeport in the run-up to the original date for municipal elections in 2023 (before they were delayed due to the war with Hamas). Since then, the Jerusalem Union’s messaging has been updated; it now asks, “Do you want a liberal, Israeli Jerusalem or an ultra-Orthodox one?” 

That’s led some critics to question if that argument is still appropriate after October 7 when “unity” has become the national watchword. Given the continued divisive politicking by members of Knesset – in particular, the anger at the haredim after funding for yeshivot was increased despite wartime budget cuts along with frustration that the ultra-Orthodox are still pushing for a blanket exemption from IDF service while, at the same time, a proposal is being discussed to lengthen service requirements for non-haredi soldiers – the Jerusalem Union’s position, sadly, remains relevant.

Rappeport is not simply a campaign worker; she’s no. 9 on the list which was formed through the merging of four different parties – Yossi Havilio, the list’s candidate for mayor, is a long-time Jerusalem activist and head of the “Saving Jerusalem” list; Laura Wharton, of “Democratic Jerusalem,” was Meretz’s representative on the Jerusalem city council; Ye’ala Bitton de Langa joined the Jerusalem Union on behalf of Yesh Atid; and Eran Ben-Yehuda did the same, from the Labor Party. Tomer Mintz, from the anti-judicial coup movement A New Contract, is also on the list. 

It’s not just the candidates. The Jerusalem Union’s talking points speak to me. 

“For 30 years, the elected mayors have insisted on basing their coalition on the local versions of Maoz, Ben-Gvir, and [Yitzhak] Goldknopf [current head of the United Torah Judaism party in the Knesset],” Havilio told The Jerusalem Post. “I pledge that after I am elected mayor, I will form a coalition that will be based first and foremost on the liberal factions.”

None of this is to say that I’m necessarily displeased with how the current – and most likely returning – mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, has managed the city. He promised to clean up our streets and stuck to his word. He promised to build far and wide and – like it or not – he’s doing that, too. Many of us were afraid he’d be too beholden to his religious coalition members, but he’s worked hard to be (mostly) fair to all sectors of Jerusalem’s delicate mosaic.

At the same time, the majority of the 30 seats on the current Jerusalem city council are in the hands of the haredi parties which, just doing the math, never mind specific policies, doesn’t bode well for pluralism. A counterbalance was – and still is – desperately needed.

Havilio wants to cancel the automatic property tax deductions for homes where there is “unemployment by choice” (code for “studying full-time in yeshiva or Kollel”); he believes state and state-religious schools should not be closed even if enrollment drops; and he emphasizes that only schools that teach the core studies of math, science and English should be opened in non-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Does all that make the Jerusalem Union an anti-religious party?

“I’m religious myself,” Rappeport stressed to me in our Emek Refaim chat before adding that, despite the fact she wouldn’t use public transportation or eat in a restaurant on Shabbat, those options should nevertheless be kept available. 

I’m not so naïve as to believe that SuperBus will soon be operating an officially-sanctioned line to ferry paying passengers to the beach on the Sabbath. But I appreciate Havilio’s and the Jerusalem Union’s fighting spirit.

When it comes to the environment, Havilio says all the right things, too: that new construction will not be approved in green areas and that the pace of work on the light rail will be accelerated (although I’m not sure he has any real control there).

If elected mayor – a long-shot to be sure – Havilio insists that in any coalition he leads, “I will make a U-turn from the poor, extreme, and non-Zionist direction in which the city is moving…I will take this city away from deterioration into the abyss of chronic poverty, extremism, bigotry, and racism.”

Laura Wharton adds, “We united to change the equation in Jerusalem and free the city council from the fanatics and extremists who are trying to take control of it. The time has come to take back the reins.”

To that, I say, “Get out and vote!”

Municipal elections will be held this coming Tuesday, February 27, in Jerusalem and all across Israel. 

The Jerusalem Union website:

Read the original article on The Jerusalem Post website.

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