The Jewish Report Editorial

Jerusalem’s secret revolution

  • Vanessa
Visiting South Africa last week as a guest of the 48th Annual Zionist Federation Conference, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat approached the trip as he might have a roadshow when he was once a high flying venture capitalist.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Mar 11, 2015

At his various speaking engagements in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, he presented a business plan with a crisp strategy, detailed numbers, and clear goals for his initiative to, in his words, “inject new DNA into the city of Jerusalem”.

This is not surprising. Barkat, who is actually married to a former South African, began his career in the hi-tech industry, creating an antivirus software firm called BRM. He later formed a venture capital fund and invested in several companies including Tel Aviv-based CheckPoint Software Technologies, today a $14 billion global leader in hardware and software for network and data security.

Yet what is striking is that Barkat, who brings to mind business tycoon turned New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and who constantly refers to entrepreneurial ideology acquired from his close friend, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, is actually running that ancient, holy city with cobbled streets, religious dissent and contested borders.

Barkat, now in his second term, after becoming mayor in 2008, has focused on building centres of excellence in tourism, commerce, medical research and education.

“Israel is an island of sanity in the Middle East and Jerusalem is its crown jewel,” says Barkat.  

Tourism is a major opportunity, he believes. If cities like New York, Paris and London can attract tens of millions of tourists a year, so can Jerusalem. He estimates that an astounding four billion people of faith want to visit Jerusalem in their lifetime and his goal is to bring 10 million tourists to his city each year.

His tenure has been characterised by high profile cultural projects such as the Old City’s Festival of Light which draws 300 000 visitors annually. He brought the first Formula One racing event to the streets of Jerusalem last year and has helped make this week’s Jerusalem Marathon, with 25 000 participants, one of the most exciting events on Israel’s sporting calendar.

Barkat excitedly tells his audiences that Jerusalemites are about to witness the construction of an enormous business centre with 13 towers of 35 storeys each, offering over 10 million square feet of office space. This will open in 2018-2020 and will, in addition, house the largest convention centre in the Middle East.

Jerusalem is also becoming a world centre for fertility treatment with ground-breaking research at Hadassah and Shaare Zedek Medical Centres where a combined 5 000 IVF treatments are done a year. Barkat likes to provide statistics.

And despite the fact that Jerusalem is better known for terror attacks, there are on average a mere four to five murders a year. Last November’s brutal Har Nof killings brought the total to an unusual 12. 

Barkat proudly notes that Jerusalem has a thriving hi-tech industry. The city’s prestigious Hebrew University gave birth to the original technology behind start-up Mobileye which creates software for driverless cars and was valued at $7,6 billion at the time of its initial public offering in the US last year.

When a small audience of investors and donors at a breakfast during his roadshow seem gobsmacked by all this innovation and excellence and ask why the world knows almost nothing about this other modern, booming face of Jerusalem, he shrugs. A sad pause.

He believes he faces that same unwinnable battle that all Israeli political and business leaders fight. The media won’t write about the advancements, job opportunities and “revolution he is creating” - to quote his fans - on those cobbled streets and ancient hills.

“The world is not interested in that,” he sighs. It’s only terror attacks, a high velocity election race next week and the alleged apartheid state that people want to read and hear about.

Mayor Barkat is gone now but I would have liked to tell him this: He may need to apply some of those cutting-edge business strategies to his public relations and marketing divisions as well. Israel has rightly been accused, even by its most loyal supporters, of not caring enough about how the world views it. 

Is it not time to draw Israel’s virulent critics away from images of tanks and bloody corpses to images of life-altering scientific and technological breakthroughs; sleek Formula One race cars shooting along the borders of the Old City, and tourists of all religions being welcomed into their deeply hallowed places of worship? Mayor Barkat - it is a battle worth fi


  1. 5 Sonny Myerson 11 Mar
    The solution to Israel's negative press is actually quite simple.
    When Dershowitz was here a few years ago, he said in answer to the question "what can we do to overcome the negative publicity Israel receives," that every Friday, we need to stand on the street corners of Cape Town handing out pamphlets, A4 size, detailing the positive things Israel does to help the world. If we could get this off the ground, we could change the perception that Israel is only about war. Imagine if this was done in every city in South Africa, every Friday? We would win the war.
  2. 4 adam levy 12 Mar
    Did he speak about the ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem?
  3. 3 Judith Yacov 12 Mar
    It is quite easy to sling mud and it doesn't even require much effort from you, Adam Levy.  I think you should detail this or rescind your remark.  I'm waiting for your response.
  4. 2 Choni 12 Mar
    Vanessa, In my opinion I can guarantee that when the complete and final Redemption takes place (may it be soon) there will be no sleek motor car racing in the streets of Jerusalem.
  5. 1 HI 30 Mar


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