Fourteen neighborhoods will elect local councils on November 20 as part of
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s much-touted program to increase community
involvement, but more than 280,000 residents will be excluded from the
Six local councils will be elected under a new clause that requires
voters to submit proof they have been active in community life for at least a
year and have 50 signatures from residents supporting their effort to be
classified as a “community activist.”
The complicated Clause 5.8 is a
result of the fear that haredi or Hamas factions could overrun the local
councils and start influencing city politics.
In neighborhoods that have
mixed haredi and non-haredi populations, the worry is that the ultra-Orthodox
are better organized than non-haredi residents and therefore will mobilize their
vote much more efficiently.
In Arab neighborhoods, the city fears a
repeat of last year’s elections in the Beit Hanina neighborhood. The
municipality canceled the election there at the last minute after it received
word that Hamas activists were organizing an effort to take over the local
Each community council is made up of nine elected members and
six appointed members, and deals with local issues such as cultural events,
education and ensuring that the municipality delivers services. The council
seats are volunteer positions and are separate from the professional staff at
the Matnas community centers.
Voter turnout for local council elections
is very low – averaging last year around 17 percent This is partly because the
idea of elections for community councils is new, and members of the public are
unaware of the elections or dubious that they influence
“Haredim, as a general rule, can organize much better and bring
twice as many voters,” Barkat said during a press conference on
“Some neighborhoods asked us to preserve the ratios of the
neighborhood’s residents [in the local councils] to ensure there is
representation from every group.”
Clause 5.8 will be applied in the six
community councils of Lev Ha’ir (Nahlaot, City Center, Musrara, Jewish Quarter),
Beit Ross (Kiryat Moshe, Givat Shaul, Mordot Bayit Vegan and Givat Mordechai),
Wadi Joz, A-Tur, Ramot and Romema. These six community councils represent
approximately 280,000 residents, 170,000 of whom are voting age.s Barkat
stressed that each neighborhood had uniquely built elections “suitable to its
Though Romema is almost 100% haredi, local rabbis asked for
the institution of Clause 5.8 to avoid one haredi sect from gaining control over
the local council.
In Ramot, an area where the haredi and non-haredi
populations frequently clash, there will be two local councils, one for the
haredim and one for the national-religious and secular populations.
Ross found a creative solution that calls for five secular/nationalreligious
representatives and four haredi representatives, with the director changing
after two years to allow both a haredi and non-haredi member to head the
Lev Ha’ir was divided into nine areas and will elect one
representative from each area.
Anyone who wishes to vote in these
neighborhoods under Clause 5.8 must submit proof that he or she has been a
community activist or volunteer for at least a year. This includes involvement
in Magen David Adom, soup kitchens, the Civil Guard and parents’
They must also gather 50 signatures from residents supporting
their desire to vote, and submit this to their local elections council a few
weeks before the November 20 election. Someone who wishes to become a candidate
must follow the same procedure.
Clause 5.8 was originally designed to
stop Islamist factions from taking over community councils in east Jerusalem,
which is why both Arab neighborhoods involved in November 20 vote, Wadi Joz and
A-Tur, will vote under the rule.
“This is a tool that’s not optimal
democracy, it’s differentiated democracy, and it’s the best thing we could
find,” said Yuli Ben-Lavy, the executive director of the Jerusalem District of
the Israeli Association of Community Centers, who helps to organize voting. “We
are using a tool. It’s not the most democratic.
But the local council
isn’t a group with legal authority, it’s a community social group.”
totally out of control,” said City Council member Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim),
who is part of the opposition in the municipality. “[In Lev Ha’ir] they’re very
angry. They worked really hard on these elections.”
Azaria questioned the
assumption that haredim would gain control of many seats in Lev Ha’ir and other
areas if the new rule was not applied. She also slammed the city for selectively
applying the clause to a few neighborhoods.
“No one discussed this with
the residents, they did it with just the politicians,” she said.
community activist Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz said the clause was “ludicrous” and
“manipulative.” He said that contrary to the city’s claims, only two of Lev
Ha’ir’s nine districts are majority haredi, meaning the neighborhood would most
likely elect a local council that is representative of its population if allowed
to vote normally. During the most recent community council meeting, 50 Nahlaot
residents stood up and shouted to express their displeasure with Clause
“The local council is meant to be representative of Nahlaot, not
representative of the active residents of Nahlaot,” Leibowitz said. “We were
personally told by the mayor there would be elections in Nahlaot. Elections mean
that everyone has the right to vote.”
But Jerusalem activist Yossi
Saidov, who last year was elected to be the head of the Ganinim council, said
the situation is not so clear-cut because Jerusalem’s neighborhoods are very
complicated. While acknowledging he would be “extremely angry” if Clause 5.8 was
applied in his neighborhood, he said there was some logic to it in more mixed
and complex neighborhoods.
“At the end of the day, you’d see a local
council that doesn’t represent you,” he said.
Ben-Lavy, of the Israeli
Association of Community Centers, said the 2010 election in the Har Homa
neighborhood proved the importance of Clause 5.8. Despite the fact that Har Homa
is 40% secular, there are no secular elected members of the local council.
Because the national-religious community is naturally more organized through its
synagogue and communal life, it brought more people to the polls and the
resulting local council is not representative of the population, he
On Monday, Barkat tried to draw the focus to his victory in
bringing local elections to all 25 community councils in Jerusalem. The
initiative began three years ago with five community councils. After the 14
communities vote on November 20, nearly every local community will have its own
elected local council for the first time since then-mayor Teddy Kollek created
the councils decades ago.
Barkat said the elected local councils serve as
a bridge between city officials and residents, to ensure that municipal services
are delivered efficiently and to alert city hall to problems.
Safra Square [city hall] can’t know and understand the order of preferences in
every neighborhood,” he said. Barkat added that elected councils also bring
young people into positions of political leadership.