In the final hours before he faces off in Jerusalem's municipal elections, Mayor Nir Barkat sought to dispel some of the rumors and accusations that have been leveled against him.
In the run up to the elections, Barkat's opponents have accused him of aligning himself with the political left, who wish to divide the city, in light of the support he has received from some high-profile leftists.
But speaking to Arutz Sheva, Barkat stressed that despite that he was not a leftist, and that he fully supported the city's National Religious community.
“I enjoy the support of many rabbis in the National Religious community, as well as those who support the state and Zionism,” Barkat said. “Many on the right support me, but I also have supporters in the center and left.” In recent days, Barkat's challenger Moshe Leon has cited what he claimed were comments by Barkat in favor of territorial compromise, something Barkat said he never advocated.
Supporting Leon are Shas head Aryeh Deri, as well as former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The two, Barkat said, are trying to “control” Jerusalem for their own nefarious purposes – something that he, as representative of the people, will prevent.
“Why else would they have to go all the way to Givatayim to find a candidate,” Barkat quipped, commenting on the fact that Leon lived in the central Israeli city for many years. More recently, however, Leon has been chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority.
Barkat promised to keep working to install a rabbi from the National Religious community as the city's Chief Rabbi. Elections for the Chief Rabbis have been postponed numerous times, with the municipality filing three petitions with the High Court to ensure that a National Religious candidate was included on the slate.
Despite concerns that he favors projects that will encourage violations of the Sabbath – such as construction of a large entertainment complex near the Binyanei Ha'uma convention center near the entrance of Jerusalem – Barkat promised to ensure that the city retains its quiet aura on Shabbat.
“We will make sure that the status quo on religious issues remains intact,” he said. “There will be no business on Shabbat, and no public transportation.”
Regarding his performance on the job, Barkat said he believed he had done well overall.
“The city has improved in the past five years. We have made it more attractive, more full of activity. There is more tourism and more economic activity, and this can be proven by the increased receipts of value added tax,” the sales tax Israelis pay on purchases. Barkat said that receipts were up significantly, indicating increased economic activity.
He added that he enjoyed good relations with the hareidi community. “Even though they didn't vote for me in the last election, I included them in my coalition,” he said. “I am the mayor of all Jerusalemites, from all communities,” Barkat added.