Local elections take place all over the world, but most of them are just that:
local. The votes in Jerusalem, on the other hand, can have a global
Mark Sofer, a former ambassador in India and now head of the
Jerusalem Foundation, likes to recall an incident involving a violent protest in
Kashmir some years ago following an item in a newspaper there concerning Jewish
construction in east Jerusalem. The news story wasn’t even true, but the rumor
evidently snowballed as it traveled around the globe, and was enough to cause
“It only goes to show that the repercussions of events in
Jerusalem can be felt thousands of miles away,” he says. “News from cities like
London, that wouldn’t even make it to the inner pages of a paper anywhere else,
can have an impact when it’s about Jerusalem.”
Such is the power of the
city. And – since I first heard him tell the story at the launch of the
Jerusalem Press Club earlier this year – I might add: Such is the power of the
Jewish tradition speaks of two Jerusalems: The spiritual
Yerushalayim shel ma’ala, the heavenly “Jerusalem of Above,” and the earthly
Yerushalayim shel mata, “Jerusalem of Below.”
The two Jerusalems were in
the minds of those of us who bothered to vote. (The turnout was a pathetically
low 35 percent.) The voting itself also had Jerusalem’s special style.
my father noted, there aren’t many cities where a policeman tasked with keeping
order outside the polling station would take a break to muster a quorum for
Jewish evening prayers.
There is something uplifting about such
spontaneous gatherings, uniting as they do people from different parties, of
different ages and different walks of life. Everybody wants the best for the
city. And most are willing to look to both the mayor and a far Higher Authority
When I left the polling station, however, I was struck by a far
less appealing sight: Holyland.
The monstrous tower block doesn’t so much
scrape the sky as make the heavens weep, it is so out of place in Jerusalem’s
One journalist calls it the “building that is its own
The prayers showed one aspect of what concerns us in
Jerusalem, the character of the Holy City; Holyland is a symbol of another issue
on everyone’s mind: what physical shape Jerusalem should take.
before former mayor Ehud Olmert was indicted for possible corruption in the
Holyland case, a case that is still dragging out in court, the Holyland complex
served to remind us that what you build today can continue to haunt you
Holyland adds insult to aesthetic injury by not even providing
a solution to the desperately important need for affordable housing.
that, too, is on our list of earthly concerns, along with issues like garbage
collection, the quality of roads and transport, the state of the city’s schools
and the size of classes.
True to the peculiar style of local elections,
Jerusalem’s two main candidates, incumbent mayor Nir Barkat and newcomer Moshe
Lion, naturally drew up very similar lists of issues they would
Well, what candidate for city hall is going to say: “I don’t want
more affordable homes, better employment opportunities, smaller classes, or
improved welfare and community services. And I definitely don’t want clean
Incidentally, when it comes to the state of Jerusalem’s
sidewalks – a reminder that cleanliness and Godliness do not always go
hand-in-hand – I don’t blame the mayor. I blame the people who
The day after the election, as Barkat and his supporters let out
a sigh of relief and Lion and his men licked their wounded pride, the greatest
amount of litter was the piles of discarded paper ballot slips and campaign
material that lay strewn on the ground.
LION, WHO only made the move to
the capital in recent months, despite having worked here for years, brought a
new dimension to a campaign in which previously Barkat was considered the only
He reminded me, in a way, of Russian-born billionaire
Arkadi Gaydamak, who ran against successful hi-tech entrepreneur Barkat in the
2008 elections and in an effort to be elected spent a great deal of his already
dwindling fortune buying debt-ridden Bikur Cholim Hospital and Beitar Football
Club (both of which he was forced to part from afterwards).
buy votes. Jerusalem is not for sale,” even the die-hard Beitar fans who
dominate my neighborhood said at the time. And the sight of Lion wrapped in the
club’s yellow-and-black scarf at this week’s match against arch rivals Hapoel
Tel Aviv didn’t make the long-standing resident of Givatayim any less of an
outsider in many Jerusalemites’ eyes.
It was no secret that Lion was
backed by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and Shas politician Arye Deri
(the former facing ongoing charges of corruption and the latter making a
political comeback after serving a prison sentence).
Together they made
strange bedfellows: A large component of Liberman’s constituents are stridently
secular Russianspeaking immigrants; Deri’s following is among the Sephardi,
ultra-Orthodox and poor, while Lion is modern Orthodox.
motivated, it seems, by an attempt to use the Jerusalem race to alter the
balance in national coalition politics.
Some commentators saw the race in
Jerusalem as running along “ethnic” lines, with Lion making an effort to reach
out to the poorer neighborhoods. But the fact that Deri, Liberman and Lion
joined forces in the first place belies this divide (as does the changing
demographic composition of the streets where they campaigned, for that
The major difference this year was the change in voting patterns
among the ultra- Orthodox. Unlike previous elections, there was no mass support
of one candidate over another by haredim following the instructions of their
It’s possible that Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox see the
modern Orthodox, including Lion, as more of a threat to their communities than
the secular, given how hard it is to explain to their youth that there are
religious Jews who overwhelmingly serve in the army, participate in the
workforce and still find time for Torah study.
Part of Lion’s campaign,
absurdly, tried to paint Barkat as a rabid left-winger who would divide
Jerusalem. Arab residents, however, continued to vote with their feet, as in the
past, largely staying away from the polls. Many are upset by Barkat’s plans for
a tourism park in the Silwan neighborhood – plans that have been widely reported
in the world press and that could cost some hapless Kashmiri his
Among Lion’s electioneering that most missed the mark, however,
were the posters stating that Barkat “would turn Jerusalem into Paris, New York
or London.” One man’s threat is another man’s promise, it seems.
intention was to draw attention to Barkat’s bombastic sporting and cultural
events – including the Formula One show and the Jerusalem Marathon – and present
them as a danger to Jerusalem’s spiritual side.
Barkat, indeed, cannot
afford to be complacent following his reelection.
Late, legendary mayor
Teddy Kollek once told me that no job was harder or more rewarding than
Barkat now has another chance to leave his mark on the city and far
beyond. That he succeeds in building something more lasting, more positive and
more unifying than “a Holyland” or “a Disneyland” should be in all our prayers.
Even those said in New York, London and Paris – not to mention
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem