Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem in 2010 at Chatham House
|Mayor of Jerusalem|
|Assumed office |
11 November 2008
|Preceded by||Uri Lupolianski|
|Succeeded by||Moshe Lion|
19 October 1959
|Alma mater||Hebrew University of Jerusalem|
Nir Barkat (Hebrew: ניר ברקת; born 19 October 1959) is an Israeli businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and politician. He was first elected mayor of Jerusalem in 2008, and was re-elected for a second term in 2013. During his tenure, Barkat has "embrac[ed] new data-driven tools in hopes of improving life for all of his constituents", working to enhance culture, promote tourism, address social welfare issues, encourage the development of local high-tech, and provide opportunities for the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities in Jerusalem.
Nir Barkat was raised in Jerusalem. His father, Zalman, was a professor of physics at the Hebrew University. He served in the Paratroopers Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces for six years (1977-1983), as well as reserve duty, and reached the rank of Major.
Barkat and his wife Beverly, an artist, have three daughters. The family lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit HaKerem.
Nir Barkat was named the 43rd most influential Jewish person in 2013.
Barkat started his career in the hi-tech industry by founding a software company called BRM in 1988, which specialized in antivirus software. Later, the company became an incubator venture firm that invested in several companies such as Check Point and Backweb. He later helped found the social investment company IVN, Israel Venture Network. In 2007, Barkat took part in the Israeli version of Dragons' Den, the venture-capitalist television program, which consists of entrepreneurs pitching their ideas in order to secure investment from business experts.
Barkat has said that he has brought the skills he harnessed in his work in high-tech to his role as Mayor: "Now I see myself as a public entrepreneur, so it's very methodological. We use data and information, and we scale successful pilot studies, using the same approach that I took with technology in the business world to change things in the city."
According to Forbes in 2013, Barkat's net worth is estimated at NIS 450 million (about $122 million), more than the combined value of the next three politicians on the list making him the wealthiest Israeli politician. He currently does not take any salary from the city of Jerusalem.
Campaign for mayor of Jerusalem
Nir Barkat's entry into politics was gradual, after his exposure to and philanthropic investments in Jerusalem's education system. In 1999, the Barkat family began to explore the educational gaps in Jerusalem through their investment in The Snunit Center for the Advancement of Web Based Learning, a non-profit, non-governmental organization which uses web based resources to improve online education and improve personal and social growth within the Israeli society. Barkat saw this investment as the beginning of his interest in entering into Jerusalem's municipal politics.
Barkat's official entry into politics began in January 2003, when he founded the party Yerushalayim Tatzli'ah ("Jerusalem Will Succeed") and ran in the Jerusalem mayoral race, securing 43% of the vote and losing to Uri Lupoliansky. After his initial loss, Barkat served as head of the opposition on the city council until his election as mayor in 2008. During this period he helped form StartUp Jerusalem, a venture to create jobs in the capital. He briefly led the Jerusalem faction of the Kadima party from 2006 - 2007, then a powerhouse in Israeli politics, but left due to disagreements with the proposal to relinquish portions of Jerusalem.
Mayor of Jerusalem
Barkat ran for a second time in November 2008, this time winning the election with 52% of the vote (his main rival, Meir Porush, won 43%). Barkat was described as a secular politician, contrasting with both Lupoliansky and Porush, who are Haredi. He ran on a platform of increasing tourism, finding solutions to the housing crisis, and opposing the light rail. He also vowed to make city council more approachable and transparent and decried the use of the mayors office a stepping stone to national politics. Controversies during his first term included the firing of city council member Rachel Azaria and his proposal for relinquishing predominantly Arab populated neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city limits. He helped to initiate the city's first international marathon in 2011 and has personally participating in races both in Jerusalem and abroad.
In 2013, he ran for a second term, during which he was endorsed by the Labor Party, and also by a range of prominent Likud activists; he also had the tacit support of Meretz, which withdrew its candidate, Pepe Alalu, in order not to steal votes away from Barkat. His opponent Moshe Lion had backing from Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and Aryeh Deri, head of Shas. Barkat was re-elected with 52% of the vote compared to his main opponent Moshe Lion former head of the Jerusalem Development Authority, who ran as the Likud candidate who garnered 43% of the electorate. Lion has since served as a member of city council and in 2015 joined Barkat's coalition. Following the tense campaign, Barkat was fined NIS 400,000 for improper use of election funds. Since his election as Mayor, Barkat has served the city for a salary of one shekel a year. Controversies of his second term have included the Formula 1 exhibition, part of the mayor's effort to raise Jerusalem's status as a cultural capital of the world and increase tourism. The Jerusalem Formula One event took place in 2013 and in 2014 but garnered much criticism for street closures which led to school cancellations, over expenditures, and its appropriateness for the city. Other controversies have included planned addition to the light rail, specifically the blue line, which was planned to run down Emek Refaim street. Mayor Barkat also had a long-running feud with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over funding which led to city-wide strikes several years in a row. Kahlon argued that Barkat was wasting funding and mismanagement, while Barkat argued that Kahlon was withholding funds for political reasons. The resulting strikes caused garbage to pile up throughout the city and the threat of mass firings of municipal employees.
In December 2015 Barkat joined the Likud party. He previously endorsed Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for Prime Minister in the 2013 and 2015 Knesset elections. In March 2018 he announced his intention to run for national politics rather than seek re-election for a third term as mayor.
Since the mid 2000s, Jerusalem has developed into a regional center for tech start-ups, and was named the #1 emerging tech hub by Entrepreneur magazine. Barkat's administration has provided incentives, tax breaks, and grants for companies with employees living in the city. By 2016, over 500 start-ups had been established in Jerusalem, bringing in upwards of $243 million in investment in the first nine months of 2015. "'After the election of [Mayor Nir] Barkat, personal activism strengthened in the city. People felt they had influence, and it really connected with the entrepreneurial character', said Dana Mann, a partner in PICO Ventures, and previously a partner in OurCrowd."
Barkat has come under fire from some women's rights activists.[who?] Some women on the Jerusalem City Council have protested illegal modesty signs.[who?] Jerusalem city councilwoman Rachel Azaria, who brought the case of gender-segregated buses in Jerusalem to the court's attention, was fired by Barkat. Laura Wharton, a member of Jerusalem City Council, complained about the illegal modesty signs, but claims she was brushed off." Barkat has criticized Women of the Wall for their confrontational efforts to pray at the Kotel.
In February 2015, Barkat garnered international attention when he intervened after seeing a Palestinian man trying to stab a Jewish victim. Barkat succeeded in subduing the attacker, with the Mayoral security detail coming in immediately afterward and the victim receiving first aid. The Tzahal Square incident promoted responses from figures such as former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, who stated that Barkat had "courageously" acted, as well as commentators on Facebook who shared tongue-in-cheek images depicting Barkat as Batman, Neo, and other film characters. In October 2015, he encouraged Israelis to carry guns as a "duty" in light of increased tensions. His comments were criticised by various commentators.
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