Yerushalayim Strike Shows No Sign of Quick Resolution

YERUSHALAYIM -
People walk past piles of garbage caused by a strike of the Yerushalayim municipality, at the Machane Yehuda market, on Sunday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After just one day of a labor stoppage, the streets of Yerushalayim were filled with trash, there were delays on the city’s light rail system, and demonstrations were blocking main arteries as workers and residents both demanded the restoration of services. High schools in the city were set to strike for several hours Monday as well, but a Labor Court ruling overnight Sunday kept the schools open.

An early end to the strike does not seem to be in the offing on Monday, as Mayor Nir Barkat slammed the Finance Ministry and its director general, Shai Babad, on Army Radio. Babad “is lying when he says that the Treasury never promised us money. He knows very well that we agreed that the city was to receive NIS 800 million as part of its special, government-mandated grant.” Without that money, Barkat said, the city simply cannot continue to function.

The strike is one of the few in which workers and management – in this case, the mayor – are on the same side. The common rival here is the Finance Ministry, which Barkat claims has been unwilling to transfer funds to the city as required by the Yerushalayim Grant, a special subsidy for the city that the Knesset has allocated to pay for the city’s special security and tourism expenses. The “Yerushalayim Grant” stood at NIS 500 million in 2016, and the Treasury reportedly offered to increase that figure by 5 percent to NIS 525 million. Barkat, however, claims that the city needs NIS 1.2 billion – more than double what the Ministry offered – and claims that without it, the city cannot afford to continue operations.

According to reports, Barkat actually reached a compromise with Babad, for NIS 800 million in funding. But the Ministry’s Budget Division has remained adamant on the NIS 525 million figure. Babad denied the report, saying that he had not offered the city more than the Treasury was prepared to allocate.

“At a time when Yerushalayim’s enemies seek to weaken its standing, we expect the Treasury to stand by our side and provide us with the necessary assistance, and not with excuses. Yerushalayim needs the budget that was agreed to, and we should not be forced to have to beg.”

Barkat has blamed his long-standing feud with Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon for the bottleneck. According to political insiders, Kachlon is concerned over Barkat’s recent membership in the Likud, where he is likely at some point in the future to seek a leadership role. Kachlon sees Barkat as a rival, attracting the same middle-class voters Kachlon’s Kulanu party tries to appeal to. Beyond that, there is bad blood between Barkat and Kahlon over the resignation of the latter’s brother, Koby, as Yerushalayim deputy mayor in 2015. Moshe Kachlon is said to feel that Barkat did not stand up for Koby over a lawsuit and allegations of impropriety against him, according to political analysts.

Coming to the defense of Kachlon was Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who told Israel Radio that the strike, supported by Barkat, “is wreaking havoc in the lives of tens of thousands of people. This is an irresponsible, cynical and immoral act.” The Treasury has offered Barkat funds to make up the shortfall, but he has rejected them, she said. “Over the years the Treasury has funded projects worth billions of shekels in the city, and provides all sorts of special grants, yet the mayor threatens a strike twice a week. This is completely irresponsible, and it does nothing but hurt residents.”