Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announces he’s joining Likud

In move seen as implicit threat to Netanyahu, municipal leader pledges to bring ‘new blood and new spirit’ to party

התפקדתי הבוקר לליכוד! צפו בסרטון והתפקדו גם אתם.למען מדינת ישראל, למען ירושלים!להצטרפות:

Posted by ‎Nir Barkat - ניר ברקת‎ on Monday, December 21, 2015

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced Tuesday that he was officially joining the Likud party, adding to speculation that he plans to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the future for leadership of the party. The announcement came two days after Netanyahu was reported to be mooting early primaries for the party in the coming months.

Barkat announced his move in a tweet and a video posted to his Facebook page, mentioning his service in the last seven years as mayor of Jerusalem and explaining his reasons for broadening his perspective.

“Fifteen years ago, I left my businesses in order to serve Jerusalem, for one shekel per year,” Barkat, a former high-tech entrepreneur, said. “Out of that same feeling of mission and responsibility for the future of the country, I am joining Likud.”

Outlining his core beliefs in “the Land of Israel and a united Jerusalem, strengthening security and minimizing social inequality,” Barkat said that he “cannot stand by as an observer.”

To allay suspicions that he will vie for the party leadership in the next primaries, Barkat said that he plans to continue to serve as mayor of Jerusalem, “at least until the end of the current term” in 2018.

Barkat urged his supporters to also join the party, to “bring new blood and new spirit” and “strengthen the leadership that has come to serve the public.”

In an interview with Army Radio, Barkat linked his experience in Jerusalem to the broader national context. “I feel that we have succeeded and are succeeding in making a change in Jerusalem,” he said. “The things that we succeeded in changing in Jerusalem are relevant to the entire country, and I therefore want to join the national effort.”

Barkat, who has publicly endorsed Netanyahu a number of times in national elections, has been making hints at a possible Knesset run for months. In a November interview with Army Radio, he said that a “position in Likud will unequivocally help me to serve as mayor of Jerusalem.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem,on May 28, 2014. (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, May 28, 2014. (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)

A major in the IDF reserves who earned a fortune at the start of the Israeli high-tech boom in the 1990s, Barkat initially entered politics in a failed bid for Jerusalem mayor against ultra-Orthodox candidate Uri Lupoliansky in 2003. After serving as head of the opposition during Lupoliansky’s term, Barkat again ran as the secular candidate in the 2008 municipal elections, beating out ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porush. Barkat was reelected in 2013.

Barkat has retained relative popularity in a city often considered widely divided between religious, ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, as well as Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Secular residents are seen to have made some recent gains in the ongoing culture war over the city’s identity.

Nir Barkat meme. (Twitter)
Nir Barkat meme. (Twitter)

Barkat also gained notoriety during the ongoing terror wave, in which Jerusalem has been a prime target for attacks. In October, he called on residents to carry guns for self defense and to foil attacks.

In February, he made headlines when he neutralized a Palestinian attacker who had stabbed an Israeli man near city hall. A video of the incident, in which Barkat and his security guard can be seen confronting the attacker and pinning him down, was widely circulated on the Internet.

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