Within hours of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s election victory Tuesday, news
sites from Kentucky to Karachi were carrying wire stories with headlines
proclaiming the race “a boost for Netanyahu.”
Putting a local race into
perspective for readers around the world unfamiliar with the intricacies of our
internal politics is important, and unlike Barkat, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu is a household name abroad, which is integral for headlines. But with
all due respect, the prime minister is hardly the reason Barkat won.
Jerusalem race actually put Netanyahu in a difficult position that he would have
preferred to avoid.
Because Moshe Lion was Likud Beytenu’s candidate, and
Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu’s No. 2 in the joint national list, was Lion’s
sponsor, the prime minister could not come out against him. But Barkat is
Binyamin Netanyahu’s friend, shares his worldly philosophy, and named a highway
exit after his late father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu.
Lion reportedly also
upset Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, when the coalition talks he negotiated for Likud
Beytenu made her nemesis, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, a powerful
So Netanyahu made a point of saying nothing publicly about the
race, making his preference for Barkat clear only by omission when he sent
letters of support to every Likud mayoral candidate except Lion.
the real reason Barkat won was Liberman, who together with Shas leader Arye
Deri, scared voters away with their political maneuver that made a very nice but
dry Givatayim accountant their candidate.
But Liberman proved his
strength and his political ability by helping the previously unknown Lion win 45
percent of the vote.
Perhaps Barkat himself should be given full credit
for the victory.
He has been credited with turning the city around and
creating a positive atmosphere in the capital.
But his campaign was more
negative about Lion than positive on his own accomplishments.
He only won
by 6 percentage points – a result predicted exactly by Jerusalem Post pollster
Rafi Smith. And a 36% voter turnout and his secular constituency’s apathy is
hardly a badge of pride.
So why did Barkat emerge victorious? The answer
– as usual in Jerusalem – has to do with the haredim.
Two days before the
election, the rebbes of the Ger and Belz Hassidim told their followers to cast
empty ballots for mayor while supporting their United Torah Judaism list for the
city council. Mayoral candidate Haim Epstein, who represented a rebellious group
of non-hassidic haredim, stayed in the race until the end.
been reports of political deals between Barkat and Epstein and promises of
precious real estate to the two hassidic groups. Time will tell if those reports
But there were legitimate reasons why the haredim did not vote
en masse for Lion. First of all, Barkat never insulted the haredim, even after
they appeared to betray him. Running an anti-haredi campaign is too easy and too
foolish in a place like Jerusalem.
Barkat has battled over the past
decade against the nonhassidic Lithuanian haredim, because they are trying to
expand into secular neighborhoods.
Hassidim don’t do that, because they
have to stay in walking distances to their yeshivas, where their rebbes hold
inspiring gatherings called tisches on Friday nights.
distinction enabled Barkat’s haredi advisers to take votes away from
Meanwhile, the results for the city council indicate that Lion won
very few votes away from Barkat’s secular constituency. His Likud Beytenu list
won just one seat, just as it did five years ago when it had no mayoral
In a close race, the key is to beat the other candidate at his
own game. Barkat did that, and Lion did not.
That is why Barkat won and
will serve for the next five years, whether he ends up boosting Netanyahu or