Op-Ed: Jerusalem: United or Divided
Kevin BermeisterThe writer is a real estate entrepreneur, investor, technologist, and philanthropist. He is a major benefactor of numerous charitable organizations and was recently awarded the Yeshiva Center Leadership in Philanthropy Award, among others. He is Chairman and CEO of Brilliant Digital Entertainment, Inc. and previously developed substantial businesses in the computing, multimedia and Internet industriesm established Ozisoft, one of the first interactive multimedia companies and Australia’s largest video games distributor. Later he established the $70 million interactive Sega World Sydney theme park which was operated through a joint venture that included Sega Enterprises Japan, Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui Corp. Kevin also developed various Internet interests including with Joltid Limited to focus on peer to peer network solutions, is board member and has been a founding investor in several successful startups including Skype. More recently he founded Jerusalem 5800 a long term planning think tank and the Jerusalem Development Fund.
Last year Arieh King, who is now running as Chairman of the United Jerusalem party together with Shmuel Shkedi in Jerusalem’s City Election, stood with me at Nof Tzion, a Jerusalem neighborhood. He was talking with a friendly Arab neighbor whose daughter emerged from their house carrying two full garbage bags. She walked past us casually and threw her garbage onto the side of the mountain. No more than 15 meters up the street sat the beautiful recycle bins and cages erected by the City for the benefit of the Nof Tzion neighborhood.
Shocked - I could not believe what I had seen! How could she do that? And why are there no facilities for the Arab home only 15 meters away? As I looked into the matter I discovered rates were actually paid by Arab residents of East Jerusalem, but do not afford them a proportional share of services. Then I wondered whether union labor, a function of left-wing politics had dictated conditions that encouraged a division of the city. Having asked a lot of questions, I now believe garbage in East Jerusalem is frequently not collected to promote the left wing pro-Oslo agenda that divides the City.
Arieh King and I met Nir Barkat and his then fledgling team a few years before he was elected Mayor of Jerusalem. He had already been a council member while waiting out his term before becoming a candidate for Mayor. In the last of three meetings before his election, Nir and I sat at his home where I presented my thoughts to resolve the Old City’s congested pedestrian movement as well as a parking and traffic exchange for taxis, buses and private vehicles. Admittedly in those days the plan was a little rough, however I wanted to plant in Nir’s mind the essential necessity to advance Jerusalem’s Holy Basin as its tourism epicenter and to do that as a priority.
My interest: more people, more traffic, more hotels, more infrastructure, more money and more exposure to pre-Second temple Jewish history.
The plan I was envisaging for tourism in the Old City expanded to include a more comprehensive impact study now available via www.Jerusalem5800.com.
During Nir’s term as Mayor, the British Advertising Standards Board and Appeals Tribunal banned Israel’s use of the Kotel as a symbol of Israeli territory, designating it East Jerusalem and off limits to advertising as an Israeli attraction.
Despite the Old City and the Kotel being Israel’s number one tourist destination, participation by the municipality to improve conditions is barely evident. The area is often dirty, smelly, crowded, badly signposted and unlicensed vendors, who operate within its confines, are left to prey on unsuspecting tourists. It holds enormous potential, rarely exploited by the City up to now.
Nir’s Formula One experiment emphasized external entertainment to attract people. However, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are more significant, connected to Jewish tradition and bring the largest number of visitors to the city than any other time of the year, yet the city did very little to promote the Jewish pilgrimage.
Drivers exiting the City will see Nir Barkat’s banner hanging larger than life on the Jerusalem Garden’s hotel, promoting his re-election and next to him stands challenger Moshe Lion. In the sordid world of politics and money, advertising should not confuse voters intent on deciding who will work at finding real solutions to the City’s problems. These issues must ultimately be addressed by improved labor relations, relaxed conditions and the release of new land for construction of tens of thousands of dwellings and an equal number of new hotel rooms. Investors who presently prostitute Jerusalem to sanctify their moral obligation to the city or those who don’t participate, preferring the distance their charitable contributions afford them, must be encouraged to change their ideals.
Whoever is elected Mayor and whichever party dominates the City list, it is time to motivate and encourage the world’s greatest business minds to invest time and capital to participate in making a profound and fundamental change to Jerusalem’s future so that it can develop into the world city it is capable of being.
The battle between Nir and Moshe is one of the most important in the history of the city and people have to answer this very important question; Has there ever been a city in history that has sustained its apparently divided constituents as well in a divided state as in a united state? Logically Jerusalem or any other city cannot sustain division, the Mayor and the City must take responsibility for the North, East, South and Western parts of the city and must ensure that all its people and all of its neighborhoods benefit the City’s future plan.
City representatives and the Mayor must be willing to aggressively challenge the influential Knesset’s Oslo status quo, while providing equal services to all the City’s constituents and at the same time, enhancing Jewish roots and culture. That explains, for example, why United Jerusalem Party's Arieh King, campaigning for City Council and known as the staunchest opponent to the idea of dividing Jerusalem, made a point of meeting with representatives of Arab neighborhoodsI to hear about their needs.