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JNF Wire: President's Society Mission Meets with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

November 19, 2015
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
President’s Society Mission Meets with Jerusalem Mayor Barkat
By: June Glazer
Presidents Mission and Barkat.jpg  Presidents Society Mission 2015 with Mayor Barkat.jpg President's Mission and Barkat Pic2.jpg

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently met with participants from Jewish National Fund’s 2015 President’s Society Mission while the group visited Israel. The mayor met with them to speak about Jerusalem municipal trends and to express his thanks to JNF for the good work it does in Jerusalem and for the whole of Israel. Below are excerpts from the nearly hour-long Q&A session between some President’s Society Mission members and Mayor Barkat:  

Participant: Can you envision Jerusalem as a divided city? 

Barkat: If you go to our hospitals and hotels or if you walk along the streets, you will understand that [the lives of Arabs and Jews are intertwined] the city cannot be divided, either practically or philosophically.  There is no good example that exists in the world of a divided city that functions well.   Therefore, my answer is that Jerusalem will remain united. With the help of the national government, I am trying to heavily invest in all parts of the city, including in East Jerusalem where we’re working with local residents to create a better quality of life. We want to convey to those residents that they are part of the city, too. That we will treat them as equals. The majority of public opinion in Jerusalem supports this. 

Participant: How do you deal with the tensions that exist between the Jewish secular and observant communities because of Shabbat restrictions in the city?  

Barkat: In Jerusalem, the operative words are “status quo,” meaning that people have different ideologies, yet we all have to make social compromises. To tell the Orthodox partners in my coalition that the cinema is open on Shabbat, that’s a huge sacrifice for them. To tell my secular partners that there’s no commerce on Shabbat, no public transportation, for them that’s huge. Yet, 29 out of 31 of my coalition partners signed an agreement respecting the status quo. So, we have restaurants and leisure activities open on Shabbat by law and by status quo. We do not have public transportation or commerce, also by law and by status quo.  I say, we can develop the city in a dramatic way while staying within the bounds of the status quo. We all understand that if we want to live together we have to compromise. 

Participant: What is the city doing to help businesses in light of economic losses they have sustained due to the current wave of terrorism?

Barkat: I view this period as a bump in the road that we have to overcome. We are working closely to measure the damage and to think about how to get people to come back to the city. Our strategy is to invest in transportation and in culture. Jerusalem is one of the safest cities in the world. New York City has three murders annually per 100,000 residents; Chicago has six; Detroit has 44. Including crime and terrorism, Jerusalem has one. We have to encourage people to overcome their fear and come back. 

Participant: What can you point to that shows the city is moving in the right direction? 

Barkat: Here are some statistics. In the last three years, we’ve surpassed Tel Aviv and Haifa in cultural tourism, and the major cities in the country in internal tourism. Today in Jerusalem, we have 11,000 hotel rooms with 5,000 more in the pipeline. We’ve also seen a huge growth in the hi-tech sector. Time and Entrepreneur magazines have positioned us in the number-one spot for emerging tech hubs in the world. The negative migration of the secular Jewish population of the city has reversed. From 2001 to 2008, one out of eight children from this sector left our education system, but from 2009 to last year, those numbers went back up by 6 percent and now are on par with the growth rate of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors. The job market here is expanding at a rapid pace. Our budget has been growing 10% on average for the past seven years.  

Participant: After your term as mayor is over, will we see you in the Knesset?

Barkat: I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll run for a third term. If I do, I will not stay for a fourth, but will serve my country on the national level.  

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

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