Mayor of Jerusalem speaks about experiences
Barkat started his talk with a broad explanation of his experience as mayor before opening the floor to the audience in a longer Q-and-A session.
Barkat explained that he first became involved in politics nine years ago when he realized that there was a gap between Jerusalem’s potential and its reality. Although Barkat lost his first election in 2003, he has been mayor for three years and has sought to apply his business skills to politics, he explained.
“I decided to develop business models to boost change in Jerusalem,” Barkat said.
With the help of professor Michael Porter ’69 of the Harvard Business School, Barkat said he focused on improving tourism and culture.
“From the three and a half billion people of faith that want to come to Jerusalem, a few years ago just two and change million people came,” Barkat said. “I set a goal to get to 10 million tourists a year.”
Barkat explained how he hoped to achieve other goals by increasing tourism.
“Getting 10 million tourists a year is an equivalent of 140,000 new jobs, a huge undertaking that is a large part of my role as mayor,” Barkat said. “Pushing our economy has another important element, as it’s well-known that when people have more to lose, they become less violent.”
Additionally, Barkat said he hopes to deter migration out of Jerusalem by improving the economy because, according to Barkat, 70 percent of the people who leave Jerusalem would stay if they could.
“Boosting the economy is a solution for many people that want to stay. If they have no job, they have no choice but to leave,” Barkat said.
Another part of Barkat’s plan is to put an emphasis on education, he said, which he described as self-perpetuating because a better education system would pull more talented teachers, further improving education.
Barkat also made repeated references to the unity of Jerusalem, as he described the city as a place of belonging for Jews and non-Jews alike.
“You will find that the vast majority of the Muslims, Christians and Jews ... would like to see a city united,” Barkat said.
To facilitate discussion among different groups, Barkat explained, Jerusalem has 28 community councils based on demography and geography so the local leaderships of homogeneous neighborhoods meet with the mayor in monthly meetings.
Besides using his business background and planning, Barkat said he is also unique as an independent candidate and therefore not restricted by party views.
“I’m not afraid to challenge the government if I feel they are doing the wrong thing for the city,” Barkat said. “I don’t belong to one party, so I’m not afraid to challenge them.”
Several audience members noted their approval of Barkat’s unique approach, which separated concrete goals from politics.
“It was far less political and, because it was focused on the needs of the people, may actually succeed,” said local resident Harold Kuskin.
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