The Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, the political party of the hassidic community, announced on Monday that each hassidic dynasty would decide for itself whom to support for mayor in cities where the party has not officially endorsed a candidate.
The announcement has huge ramifications for the mayoral race in Jerusalem and will come as a blow to Likud Beytenu candidate Moshe Lion, who requires as many votes as possible from the haredi community to close the large gap in support between him and incumbent Mayor Nir Barkat.
A poll published last weekend by Ma’ariv gave Barkat a 28 percentage-point lead over Lion, although 43% of those polled said they had not yet decided. A large proportion of the undecideds are likely haredi voters who wait for the announcements of their rabbis before deciding for whom to vote.
Additionally, The Jerusalem Post understands from wellplaced sources that two of the biggest hassidic communities in Jerusalem, Gur and Belz, have both come to “understandings” with Barkat that they will not vote for Lion, while several others, including Viznitz, have also agreed not to support the Likud Beytenu candidate.
Sources in the Agudah say the hassidic groups are not willing to endanger their relationship with Barkat when Lion’s poll numbers are so unfavorable.
“In every city in which there is an agreed upon candidate for mayor by Agudat Yisrael [one must] vote for him, and in cities in which Agudat Yisrael has not agreed on a candidate, people should vote in accordance with the instructions of their rabbi,” read the party’s announcement, which was published in several haredi daily newspapers Monday morning.
Despite the claims of “understandings” between the major hassidic groups and the mayor, a spokeswoman for Barkat’s campaign denied that any agreements had been reached with the hassidic groups.
“There is no agreement at all, [but] Barkat is happy with the broad support he has among all sectors in Jerusalem – as opposed to Liberman and [Shas leader Arye] Deri’s shady deal from Givatayim,” Barkat’s campaign said in response, referencing the strong support Lion has received from Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Deri, as well the fact that Lion until recently lived in Givatayim.
One of the key problems facing Lion is the war between two factions within the non-hassidic haredi community. Degel Hatorah, the mainstream non-hassidic haredi party, has endorsed Lion, but a splinter group led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and representing several thousand votes in Jerusalem, refuses to fall in line with Degel’s instructions due to an internal conflict within the community.
In addition, Auerbach has taken an extremely hard line on the issue of haredi enlistment, and the new political party representing his views, Bnei Torah, blames Lion for having drafted the basis of the current legislation for haredi enlistment during the coalition negotiations conducted ahead of the formation of the current government.
Since Bnei Torah represents several thousand votes in Jerusalem, the hassidic groups argue that without total unity in the non-hassidic haredi camp, Lion cannot win and they are therefore loathe to vote for him.
One source told the Post that the “understandings” between Gur and Belz will not be changed even if Auerbach’s faction does eventually agree to withdraw its candidate.
A separate source said that such a possibility still existed but that it was extremely low, and also expressed skepticism that the two non-hassidic factions could be reconciled.
There is also a good deal of resentment from Agudah toward Degel Hatorah for having decided on and endorsed Lion without having consulted the hassidic party.
It should be remembered, however, that Auerbach’s faction threatened to run in the general elections in January but pulled out at the last moment after Degel agreed to consult with Auerbach on certain issues.
Lion met with the leading non-hassidic rabbis back in the middle of September and gained their support and that of Degel for his candidacy.
In response to a request for comment, a source in the Lion campaign accused Barkat of duplicity toward the electorate.
“While he bills himself as the secular, anti-haredi candidate, he is making backroom deals with haredi officials, just as he did in the previous elections where he rode to victory on the back of haredi support and then formed his coalition for the last five years around the haredim,” the official said.
“Our campaign has always maintained that we have no agreements with any one person, official or sector, but we know that people from many sectors across the political and religious spectrum are supporting Moshe Lion simply because Barkat has failed miserably.
“The testament to this is the fact that an incumbent mayor who served for five years has no other election campaign except to smear, lie and besmirch the name of his opponent.”
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