“Do me a favor,” said Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem, before a crowd of about 70. “Only tough questions.”
The Yale Political Union hosted Barkat for a public forum in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall on Thursday. The event featured discussions on issues ranging from the economy to the politics of Jerusalem.
Barkat told the News he appreciates such opportunities to speak to college students.
“For me, it’s an investment in the future,” Barkat said. “Students need to have a wider perspective, so … every trip to the United States, I usually go to colleges to speak.”
The evening began with remarks from the President of the YPU Brian Cashin ’19 and Julian Assele ’20, who invited Barkat to the event. After these brief introductions, Barkat took the stage and gave a brief speech about his accomplishments as the chief representative of Israel’s capital.
Barkat said he has tried to cultivate Jerusalem’s reputation as a global city during his tenure.
“We’ve created Jerusalem as a destination for many national and international events,” Barkat said.
After his short speech, Barkat opened the floor for questions from the audience.
The evening had no shortage of the “tough questions” the mayor requested. Second-year graduate student Ethan Perets GRD ’22 asked Barkat about Israel’s decision to remove itself from United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a United Nations branch that gives special designations to historic places and heritage sites around the world. Perets noted that Israel repealed its membership in UNESCO after the organization made decisions the country disagreed with, but asked Barkat whether these disagreements are worth missing out on the resources UNESCO provides to protect cultural landmarks.
Barkat responded with a measured critique of UNESCO.
“What’s happening with UNESCO has become very political. They’re trying to challenge Israel’s right to the city of Jerusalem, which is something unacceptable by us,” Barkat explained. “It’s very clear that the people who are making their decisions have no clue what’s happening in the city, practically.”
Later in the night, an attendee questioned Barkat on whether he would support moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move the Trump administration is considering. Some speculate that such a move would represent US recognition of Jerusalem as an exclusively Israeli city. Barkat said that while Israel wants the world to recognize its right to Jerusalem, the country does not need such approval.
Another attendee questioned Barkat’s notion that Jerusalem is not divided and completely Israeli. Barkat reaffirmed that the city is, indeed, cohesive, and that the conflict often associated with the city is a byproduct of its “diversity.”
“When you have somewhere so diverse as Jerusalem, then you are bound to have conflict,” Barkat said. “I see conflict not as some bug but as some characteristic of a diverse city.”
Cashin stated that he enjoyed the event, calling the forum a “memorable moment” for the Union.
After the event, however, Nisim Roffe ’21 said he was slightly disappointed, because he felt that the mayor was not sufficiently challenged during the event.
“I wasn’t surprised by the mayor’s answers, but I always wish there was a more spirited debate,” Roffe said.
The YPU will host its next debate with Candice Cook and Stephan Kinsella on Dec. 5, 2017.
Aakshi Chaba | firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Sung | email@example.com