Elections in Jerusalem: The run-off is brewing

Some of the most interesting developments are taking place in the haredi sector, where apparently something of a rebellion is brewing.

November 10, 2018 06:31
3 minute read.
Elections in Jerusalem: The run-off is brewing

Ofer Berkovitch (right) and some supporters on election day, celebrating the news he would be moving on to the second round.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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As this Tuesday’s run-off election date approaches, the camps of the two final mayoral candidates – Ofer Berkovitch and Moshe Lion – are scrambling to secure as much support as possible.

Some of the most interesting developments are taking place in the haredi sector, where apparently something of a rebellion is brewing. The leading rabbis are leaning toward supporting Lion, yet a number of young yeshiva students, both hassidic and Lithuanian, openly prefer to back Berkovitch.

On the pluralist side, ex-candidate MK Rachel Azaria broke 10 years of silence between her and Berkovitch (rooted in the Hitorerut/Yerushalmim split) by publicly declaring her support for him. Her former partners in Yerushalmim, now blended into Ze’ev Elkin’s list (Jerusalem Will Succeed), are refraining for now from revealing any allegiance.

Exiting Mayor Nir Barkat also broke his silence and made a choice between the two – albeit far from his first choice (Barkat was deeply involved in Elkin’s candidacy). He is supporting Lion, explaining his decision in a video in which he depicts Berkovitch as the less capable and reliable candidate for the position.

The biggest drama may be what is going on in the haredi camp. Deputy Health Minister and leader of United Torah Judaism Ya’acov Litzman is being criticized for the failure of his own candidate, Yossi Daitch. According to sources, Litzman tried to benefit his sector from all sides, making deals with practically all the candidates – especially Elkin and Moshe Lion. He promoted Daitch’s candidacy, but apparently realizing that Daitch had little chance of being elected, sought alliances with at least two other candidates in order to secure the best post-election conditions possible for his sector. An unofficial engagement to provide Elkin with haredi votes from the Agudat Israel sector, on which Elkin apparently counted, didn’t come through, contributing to Elkin’s electoral failure.

“In Litzman’s entourage, there is serious concern that he will pay the price for that in the next government,” added a source from inside the Likud.

There is suspicion in Daitch’s camp that he was sacrificed, as he was officially supported by his party, Agudat Israel, but was apparently abandoned by the majority of the haredim that belong to Degel Hatorah. Daitch, who ran an excellent campaign, won significant sympathy from the non-haredi public, but that sympathy was not translated into votes for him. He has been heavily courted by the two remaining candidates seeking his support – and his voters. Daitch has (as of press time) remained silent about his plans. Because he does not decide alone, he awaits advice from the Gur Rabbi, who, apparently hasn’t yet made up his mind which candidate will best serve the interests of his sector. Daitch is also influenced by the internal rivalry between Agudat Israel and Degel Hatorah.

Interestingly, growing numbers of haredim, mostly in their 30s or younger, are breaking with tradition and independently choosing which candidates they prefer, without waiting for rabbis’ instructions and sometimes even openly defying them. There are indications that a large number of them will simply not bother to vote. As a result, no candidate can be sure that any agreement with Aguda or Degel or even both together, can be considered as solid a commitment as it used to be.

In any case, Lion is certain to benefit from haredi support, particularly from Shas voters, who have recently proven that the eulogies about their vanishing from the political scene were premature, and pledged full support to Lion with their five seats at the council. According to a source in Lion’s camp, Shas has already made an agreement with Lion, securing them two deputy mayor positions and head of the local planning and construction committee.

Lion has additionally secured support from Arieh King’s Meuhadim (he also seeks to head the same committee) while Hagit Moshe (Bayit Yehudi) has yet to announce support for either suitor.

Returning to Berkovitch, he has secured the support of the secular voters and a large part of the religious plus that of an unknown number of young haredim. If he wins in the runoff round, he will prove yet again that underdogs can indeed surprise.

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