Municipal Affairs: One year since the new mayor opened the door to his office in Safra Square in downtown Jerusalem, he has begun putting into place the policies he envisioned.

JERUSALEM MAYOR Moshe Lion (right) is congratulated by his predecessor, Nir Barkat (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
JERUSALEM MAYOR Moshe Lion (right) is congratulated by his predecessor, Nir Barkat (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


Moshe Lion, 59, beat out his much younger competitor, Ofer Berkovitch, 36, by a margin of 50.85% to 49.15% (fewer than 4,000 votes) to become mayor of what many consider to be the holiest city in the world.

Lion won the election in a run-off on November 13, 2018, and took office on December 4.

One year since the new mayor opened the door to his office in Safra Square in downtown Jerusalem, the office with the Old City walls in sight, he has passed the city’s largest-ever budget – NIS 950 million – and has begun putting into place the policies he envisioned in the course of a lively election that went down to the wire.

Lion identified four major challenges plaguing Jerusalem: housing; job opportunities for young, educated people; traffic; and cleanliness, and he told The Jerusalem Post that he has acted on all fronts to strengthen the city.

He said his goal is to build more housing, since “by building more apartments, the price of housing will inevitably decrease.” Each year for the last decade, he explained, the city built around 2,000 new apartments per year. He hopes to raise that level incrementally, until in five years, around 5,000 apartments are built each year.

Additionally, he said that he has placed a focus on creating space for more businesses to come to Jerusalem.

“Companies don’t want to open in Jerusalem – or stay in Jerusalem as they grow – because the city lacks office space,” he said, comparing Jerusalem’s lack of office space to that of the nation’s center.
According to office-space finder Spacing, some 70 co-working spaces exist in Tel Aviv, which has only 430,000 residents, and only 12 co-working spaces in Jerusalem, with a million residents.

“Ninety-five percent of office spaces are full,” he claimed.

Two days after Lion took office, the Israel Lands Authority and the city issued a tender for the first two buildings in an ambitious construction project at the city’s entrance. The vision for the project began under Lion’s predecessor Nir Barkat.

He also started to develop the Hujitech industrial park on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Givat Ram campus, a project of the university and the Jerusalem Development Authority. The park will contain 150,000 square meters zoned for hi-tech on 3 hectares (7.5 acres) owned by the university (80%) and the JDA (20%). This is to be the first hi-tech park in Israel on a university campus.

Lion admitted that building and road construction have further clogged what were already congested roads, but he told the Post that in less than five years the residents will benefit.

He explained that street closures and diversions are largely related to light rail expansion. By 2022, he expects that the Red Line will be completed, running 22.5 kilometers from Neveh Ya’acov to Hadassah Medical Center in the city’s Ein Kerem.

The Green Line, he contended, should be completed around the same time. That line will run 19.6 kilometers from the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus to Gilo.

“This will help a lot with traffic,” Lion said. “No doubt this should have been done 50 years ago….
But we are doing it now. It will be better for the environment, and the people will have better access to public transportation. In four years, it will all be good.”

He said he remembers “how painful” initial construction on the Red Line was. As such, he has taken matters into his own hands to ensure this round of expansion has few, if any, delays. He meets with those responsible for the light rail in person on a monthly basis.

Today, around 170,000 rides are taken on the light rail per day. Upon completion, that number is expected to jump to 400,000.

Of course, not everyone in Jerusalem supports these changes or appreciates the traffic jams.

City council member Dan Illouz (Hitorerut) said that, in his estimation, the construction is being done “in an unwise way. Lion wants to get all the renovations done today, and he thinks people will just forget the traffic jams he is causing.”

Berkovitch agreed, saying he thinks people will leave the city before the work is complete.

Some 79% of Israeli drivers say traffic is their greatest cause of everyday stress, according to a survey released earlier this year by the Israeli-founded GPS navigation company Waze.

But Lion believes people will be patient because of the other improvements he is making in Jerusalem. For example, cleanliness.

“The city is much cleaner now than before I started,” he told the Post.

Lion has moved to bolster the city’s underground waste collection system, which includes a network of underground waste containers.

The move threatened Jerusalem’s cats, which were accustomed to eating out of the large green trash receptacles that forever littered Jerusalem’s sidewalks and alleyways. To ensure that the cats remained healthy, Lion erected some 150,000 cat-food stands that are filled by a team of community volunteers.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, commented how instituting Saturday night trash collection across the city has significantly impacted the holy city’s cleanliness standards. Moreover, she added, Lion is immediately responsive to mess, if pointed out to him. She said sometimes she will see an area in need of cleaning. She’ll snap a picture on her phone and send it to him with the coordinates. Almost instantly, he will send a team out to take care of the problem.

Lion has also secured a NIS 200m. – NIS 50m. per year for the next four years – investment to repave roads and upgrade sidewalks with stones, benches and trash receptacles.

As of 2015, Jerusalem had 900,000 residents, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Among those residents are many Arabs and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) people. These two minority groups traditionally suffer from lower rates of academically educated and well-paid workers, which is one of the reasons Jerusalem is the poorest city in the country.

For Lion, the Arab citizens of east Jerusalem have been a focus.

“As soon as we decided that we wanted a unified Jerusalem, our job was to invest in east Jerusalem like we do in west Jerusalem,” he told the Post.

He said the Arabs need a stronger educational system run by the municipality, improved infrastructure and roads, nicer apartments and more opportunities for work, all of which he is working with the government to establish.

“In the end, people just want a quiet life and economic security,” he said.

But there is one area of east Jerusalem that he has not been able to calm, the mayor admitted. For the past six months at least, there has been tension and even violence emanating from Isawiya. Lion said that in the beginning of the school year he visited the neighborhood and met with parents, asking them to help him maintain calm.

“We had candid talks about how to manage things, but then there were disruptions again,” he said, noting that he has no choice but to engage the police when things get out of hand.

“When disorders and violence occur, I can’t tell the police not to do their job. We had understandings, but there is also a problem of parental authority,” Lion said. “I try all the time. The calm must return there.”

THE HAREDI sector is a constituency Lion knows better. In fact, he recalls the “demonization of me. There were some who said the city would fall tomorrow if I was elected,” because of his connection to the haredim.

“But they have been proven wrong,” he insisted. “I am the mayor of everyone.”

He not only kept the First Station open on Shabbat, but earlier this month it was named the first vegan-friendly complex in Israel. He fought against a potential forcible takeover of two Masorti (Conservative) synagogues in the capital’s Ramot and Kiryat Hayovel neighborhoods, when the usage allocations given by the Jerusalem Municipality to both congregations for the purposes of building a synagogue expired.

Lion has also made investments in culture and art, including most recently signing a long-term lease with Studio of Her Own for use of the home of the late and famous artist Pinchas Litvinovsky on Kaf-Tet B’November Street.

Even Illouz admitted that “some people have been pleasantly surprised, because he is not as bad as they thought he would be.”

But he said he is “still waiting” for the worst and believes “we will start seeing a shift toward the ultra-Orthodox.

“The people who got him elected are not pluralistic and certainly not Zionists,” Illouz continued.
“They will want to get something for supporting him, and he will give it to them so he gets their support again. There is not a lot of noise right now, but it is worrisome.”

Berkovitch highlighted Lion’s approval of the construction of 10,000 housing units for the haredi population, including in northern Ramot, where 2,000 housing units will be built specifically for the ultra-Orthodox public. Another neighborhood is also being established between the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood and Neveh Ya’acov that will include 2,000 haredi housing units. Other neighborhoods, such as Har Nof, Ramot and Shmuel Hanavi will see expansions with thousands of new units, as well. The plans to establish these areas had been delayed during Barkat’s reign, but Lion was quick to move them forward.

Admittedly, Berkovitch and Lion do not have close personal relations. As head of the opposition, Berkovitch seemed bitter about being left out of the coalition. His party scored seven seats out of the 31-seat city council, the largest of any party. Berkovitch said that he feels Lion “does not respect the opposition. Sometimes he does not even give us the option to speak, and he does not give us the information we need.”

To get elected, Lion’s largest bloc of support came from the “Lithuanian” haredim and an unlikely ally, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman. During the election, the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot revealed tapes of Lion insinuating that in exchange for some religious leaders’ support for his candidacy, Liberman had promised to promote a softened version of a law to draft ultra-Orthodox students into the military. Since then, Liberman has forced the country into a second and possibly third election over this draft bill and other anti-haredi legislation.

Liberman has made deeply divisive comments about the country’s ultra-Orthodox population, including accusing the prime minister of cozying up to the ultra-Orthodox parties, which, he said, “say amen and wait for the checks to come.”

Lion said he and Liberman have a close relationship personally, but “there is obviously a far distance between us on matters of religion and state.” He said he does not believe Liberman’s recent comments would impact his (Lion’s) reelection.

He added that he is doing his best to ensure that all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their level of religiosity, are happy.

“When he won the election, a large part of the public was kind of in shock and thought that somehow this guy would sell our souls to the ultra-Orthodox,” Hassan-Nahoum said. “I worked with him for three years before on the city council. I knew him as a very moderate guy, a very good manager with a lot of good experience. The city is in good hands with him.”

She added that the mayor is very conscious of not upsetting the secular public, because he came under such criticism when elected.

Hassan-Nahoum said she likes working with Lion because he does not think he knows everything, and he has an open-door policy. Hassan-Nahoum oversees foreign relations, and she said that Lion will meet with anyone she brings him. She added that his English has improved a lot since taking office, and what he doesn’t have in language skills he makes up for by “being a warm person.”

“Moshe wants to be here for the next 10 or 15 years,” she said. “He wants to build up the trust that people have in him. Most people I speak to are pleasantly surprised by the way things are going here.
“Moshe is a good, warm guy, politically extremely savvy and extremely connected in the government,” she added. “Everyone benefits.”

Just before he was elected, this reporter asked Lion to compare Jerusalem to a fruit.

To that question, he offered a full-bellied laugh.

“Jerusalem is not a fruit,” he said. “Jerusalem is a bowl of fruit. What’s special about Jerusalem is all of its colors.”

And after one year in office, it seems the mayor is doing his best to keep the city ripening.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post