Despite nationally known figures such as Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai running for mayor of the capital, someone relatively unknown outside the capital is polling ahead of the big names: Ofer Berkovitch, leader of the local party Hitorerut.
A poll the Likud ordered to check Elkin’s chances put Berkovitch in first place at 21%, tied with Moshe Lion, a Givatayim accountant who moved to Jerusalem five years ago to be the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu candidate for mayor and has been a city councilman since then. Elkin followed at 17%, and another 40% are still undecided. Shai had not announced his candidacy at the time of the poll.
Berkovitch, 35, a former deputy mayor, told The Jerusalem Post this week he sees himself as a candidate to represent a broad swath of Jerusalem’s Zionist population, which is what his party seeks to do.
He came to politics in 2008, when after six years in the IAF as a drone pilot, he returned to his hometown of Jerusalem and found a city in crisis, inspiring him to found Hitorerut Jerusalem.
“All the secular people and religious Zionists were leaving the city. We established Hitorerut” – which means awakening – “to show that we’re going from passive to active. In the last 10 years, we made great progress in the city.”
Berkovitch and Hitorerut take credit for revamping the Mahaneh Yehuda market, turning it into a hip nightlife destination, keeping the Smadar Theater in the German Colony neighborhood open, student dorms going up in the center of the city and helping to bring hi-tech jobs.
“With Hitorerut’s achievements, my lifelong connection to the city, not being from a national party and representing a wide Zionist front, I have many advantages,” Berkovitch said. “We’re offering an optimistic view, economic development and help for the residents.”
The party has been in the opposition for the past six months, quitting the coalition after Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who does not plan to run for reelection in the October 30 vote, signed an agreement with the haredi Degel Hatorah party that would see municipal buildings used by the religious-Zionist community transferred for use by haredim.
Should be become mayor, Berkovitch plans to work on three fronts:
• The first is “economic, creative and urban development,” which involves bringing jobs to the capital, including for haredim and Arabs, to take people out of poverty and to bring major hi-tech companies to the city.
• He also hopes to work on religious-secular relations in Israel, calling Jerusalem “a microcosm of Israeli society.”
“We have to build connections between the populations,” he said. “We want to bring in activists from all over the city and see what they want, and connect Arab culture with Western culture, religious and secular. We’ll work with the haredi and Arab communities to integrate them in employment and improve their lives.”
• The final area consists of the mundane, everyday issues that Berkovitch and many other Jerusalemites feel Barkat neglected.
“We need to take care of the residents’ simple needs, like cleanliness,” he said. “This is different from Barkat. We want to invest in this area... to fine people who make the city dirty and to physically go around every week and see that the city is clean.”
When it comes to the diplomatic debates about Jerusalem, Berkovitch kept mum.
“I don’t deal in diplomatic issues. I deal with the daily lives of all the residents,” he said. “My movement has people from the Right and Left, and I’m here to serve the residents. The city is united today, and we need to invest in infrastructure in the east, while enforcing the law and preventing incitement.”