Jerusalem mayor fires right-wing councilman

Nir Barkat removes Aryeh King after he filed a court petition against the city’s plan to build new Arab homes

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem, in 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem, in 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Friday fired Councilman Aryeh King from his positions in the city’s ruling coalition, after King filed a court petition against the city.

King, who held the emergency and security, and environmental protection portfolios, tried to get the Administrative Court to force the city’s building and planning committee to present the results of a building survey for the Arab Arav al-Swahara neighborhood, and to prevent the committee from discussing a plan to build new homes for Arabs in Jerusalem without releasing the survey results, NRG reported.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Local Building and Planning Committee passed a development plan that calls for the construction of 2,200 new homes in Arav al-Swahara, after several years of wrangling between the mayor and right-wing city councilors.

The city said that King’s dismissal was not connected to the content of his petition, but stemmed from the very fact that he initiated the legal move.

“This revocation of the powers and functions is not connected to the essence of King’s appeal against the city, but only to the way he chose to act, by opposing the coalition agreement that he signed, and the basic principles that coalition work is based upon,” said the city in announcement.

The three other councilmen in King’s party will continue to serve in their positions.

Barkat and Deputy Mayor Koby Kahlon, who chairs the committee, had been thwarted in bringing the plan to a vote on numerous occasions by right-wing aldermen, such as King, head of the Israel Land Fund, and Jewish Home’s Mati Dan. The plan was only brought to a vote following a court order by the Jerusalem District Court.

King waged a concerted campaign against the plan leading up to the vote, threatening to bolt the municipal coalition and taking to Facebook to lobby Jewish Home party cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel to pressure ultra-Orthodox council members to vote against the plan.

His efforts proved futile, however, as the ultra-Orthodox bloc abstained and the plan passed with support from Kahlon, the Yerushalmim party’s Tamir Nir, Hitorerut’s Hanan Rubin, and Meretz’s Pepe Alalu.

King ripped into Shas after the vote, accusing the party of helping Barkat pass the measure.

“Shas city councilman Michael Malkieli unfortunately ‘disappeared’ and was absent from the committee meeting despite his promise that he would oppose the plan, and because of him the leftist plan passed,” he wrote on Facebook.

Despite helping to pass the plan, several of those who voted in favor expressed reservations.

“This is not a good plan, but we don’t have another option,” Alalu said. “It’s not possible now, after four years of procrastination, to tear it down and start from scratch.”

Alalu noted that there were severe restrictions on building sizes and that the residents were referred to as those of a village. He acknowledged that “2,500 units are a welcome thing, without a doubt,” but questioned how they would get built when there were no equivalents to the Jerusalem Development Authority for the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

“We must establish an East Jerusalem development company, otherwise it will be very hard,” he said.

Rubin said that supporting the plan was not a simple choice, even though it dealt with a basic principle of “building a normal neighborhood in East Jerusalem,” because it was important for him to ensure the committee would require detailed plans and that, “unlike in the past, all building offenses would be dealt with seriously and immediately.”

Rubin also expressed hope that the next step of the committee would be to approve “thousands of affordable housing units for young people in other parts of the city.”

Spencer Ho contributed to this report. 

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