Kindergartens Shuttered on Third Day of Yerushalayim Strike

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

The municipal strike in Yerushalayim took a turn for the worse Tuesday, as kindergartens were shut down. Teachers and especially assistants – all of whom are municipal employees – gathered for “information meetings” instead of opening schools.

The closures just added to the headaches that city residents have experienced for two full days. Primary among the concerns of residents has been the participation of trash collectors in the strike. With no trash collection, storekeepers along the main line that traverses Jaffa Road have been setting their trash outside stores, and large amounts of it have drifted onto the tracks of the light rail. On Monday, light rail operators halted service along much of Jaffa Road, as there was no one to remove the trash blocking the tracks.

The closure of the kindergartens also marked the first crack in the united front of city officials in favor of the strike, as Mayor Nir Barkat battles the Finance Ministry in his demand for funding that he says was promised by the government, and which he says the city needs to keep operating. The three members of the Yerushalmim faction in the 31-member City Council announced that they were resigning.

“The kindergarten strike is illegal and immoral,” they said in their announcement. “Nir Barkat and his administration are trampling on the heads of parents. This strike has been nothing short of a scandal. Barkat has been ignoring court orders against involving the education system in the strike, and all this is just another step in Barkat’s efforts to take control of the Likud in its next primary.”

In response, Barkat’s office said that it regretted the resignation of the faction’s members from the council, but that the Kulanu-affiliated group was not needed. “Barkat has a wide coalition of 27 out of 31 Council members, and will do just fine without the help of the departing council members. Unfortunately, Kulanu activists in the city are more interested in the preferences of their boss, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, than the interests of city residents.”

Barkat has blamed his long-standing feud with Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon for the bottleneck. According to political insiders, Kachlon is said to be 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 his Kulanu party tries to appeal to. Beyond that, there is bad blood between Barkat and Kachlon over the resignation of the latter’s brother, Koby, as 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.