Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announces Knesset bid
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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announces Knesset bid

Netanyahu welcomes newcomer who’s been heading the capital’s municipality for a decade

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat holds a press conference at the Jerusalem Municipality regarding his dispute with the Finance Ministry over the city's budget, on January 1, 2018. (Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat holds a press conference at the Jerusalem Municipality regarding his dispute with the Finance Ministry over the city's budget, on January 1, 2018. (Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat formally announced on Sunday that he will not be seeking a third term as Jerusalem’s mayor and that, as many expected, he will instead run for the Knesset on the Likud party ticket.

Barkat, 58, a longtime backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who joined the ruling party in 2015, announced the move after successfully passing his city’s municipal budget on Thursday.

“After Jerusalem has gone on the right path, I won’t be running for a third time for city mayor,” Barkat said in a video published Sunday morning on his Facebook page. “At the end of the current term I will leave the municipality, but I will never leave Jerusalem.”

Highlighting his past in the military and in the tech world, Barkat said that he believes “with all my heart” in the Likud party’s path and that he will request the support of its members in the next primary to place high on its slate of Knesset candidates.

Barkat met Sunday with Netanyahu, who issued a statement welcoming the development as a “significant contribution to the country’s biggest movement.”

“I welcome you with open arms to our movement and am happy for the cooperation between us,” Netanyahu said. “We have things to do from now on for the benefit of the country.”

After Barkat’s announcement, his rival in the 2013 municipal elections, Moshe Lion, announced he would run again for the position of Jerusalem mayor.

Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is reportedly seeking to swap roles with Barkat, welcomed him to the Likud party and said he “very greatly contributed to the advancement of Jerusalem over the last decade.”

Elkin added that he had “no doubt that his addition to the Likud’s national leadership will strengthen the party, will aid us in the next elections and will boost Likud’s achievements in the next term.”

A confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Elkin has served in the Knesset since 2006, formerly in the Kadima party, and since 2009 in the governing Likud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) flanked by Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon (left) and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. (photo courtesy of Benjamin Netanyahu's Facebook page)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) flanked by Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon (left) and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in 2013. (via Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page)

Barkat has been embroiled in an increasingly public feud with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the city’s budget for several months.

Barkat claims that the Finance Ministry has been withholding hundreds of millions of shekels from the municipality in an effort by Kahlon to settle a score with the mayor, who supported Netanyahu in the last elections instead of him.

Kahlon, a former minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party, established the Kulanu party as a socially conscious version of Likud, winning 10 seats in the 2015 elections.

As part of the campaign to receive an increased “capital grant,” Barkat announced early this year that the city would have to scale back key municipal services and fire thousands of workers. He also launched a billboard campaign funded by the city to pressure Kahlon to agree to up funds for the city, and paid with his own money for weekend newspaper ads against Kahlon.

On Tuesday, the Haaretz daily reported that Barkat had ordered the anti-Kahlon billboards removed in preparation for his announcement.

Barkat has retained relatively high popularity in a city comprising 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.

A major in the IDF reserves who earned a fortune at the start of the Israeli high-tech boom in the 1990s, Barkat 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. He was reelected in 2013.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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