Who is Jerusalem's silent mayoral candidate?

Who is Yossi Daitch - the haredi sector’s ‘most official unofficial mayoral candidate’?

July 8, 2018 05:30

YOSSI DAITCH. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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He will be turning 50 in a few days; married to Shoshana, he is the father of six and grandfather of three.

Yossi Daitch, a Slonim Hassid, - born and raised in Jerusalem, is the most official unofficial candidate for mayor of Jerusalem.

From his office on the sixth floor of Safra Square’s municipal building overlooking the Old City, Daitch has refused to talk to the press about his candidacy, alleging that until he gets the public blessing of the Gedolei Yisrael (the ultra-Orthodox sector’s rabbinical leaders), he will not make any official declaration on the matter – except for confirming that he is convinced that a haredi mayor for Jerusalem is the best thing that could happen to the city, and that he has the best chances of doing the job.

Daitch is already serving his third term on the city council, and since the 2013 election he is deputy mayor. He also has the title of substitute for the mayor.

In 2003, haredi Uri Lupolianski became mayor instead of Ehud Olmert, who left the city’s helm to join Ariel Sharon’s government. Daitch – at least in principle – has the same chances to move to the nearby large office of the mayor. But he is not interested in becoming mayor by chance; he has a clear and precise idea of what should be done for the good of the city, and he is convinced that he has good reasons to believe that his election is realistic.

Albeit the fact that he is not hiding his desire to get the approval of his leadership and launch his campaign, Daitch has decided not to make any declarations for the moment, because – and this was the only thing he agreed to be quoted on – “this is a very delicate matter. We have to be very careful to see that this initiative [to elect a haredi mayor] doesn’t harm the interests of our community before running with it.”

Daitch has agreed, however, to refer In Jerusalem to some of his closest assistants and friends, to get a larger and more precise picture of where he stands and what is at stake in this repeat possibility of a haredi mayor for Jerusalem.

All persons asked have agreed about one thing – Daitch’s gentle manners and good relationships with all of the parties in the city council, which some of them point to as proof that he could be a good mayor – even for those who do not share his way of life.

THE MAIN problem that prevents Daitch from going public about his candidacy is not his capacity to win the votes of non-haredi residents, as one might expect, but rather what his chances are inside his own haredi sector.

“Gay pride, the entertainment places open on Shabbat – it’s difficult for a haredi person to live with, not to mention the obligation as mayor to approve budgets for these things,” explains one of Daitch’s advisers.

But not all them agree on that matter, since all of these issues are now under the Supreme Court’s ruling – meaning that no mayor, haredi or not, could change anything about this. “Yossi Daitch wants to see the status quo fully implemented and respected, unlike what has been going on here for the last few years, with repeated attempt to nibble at it,” adds a senior adviser who has been working with him for the past few years.

“After all, the status quo says clearly: Restaurants and culture venues can be open on Shabbat and commerce and trade are not allowed,” Daitch’s adviser said. “The problem is that the secular side is the one that does not respect these rules [and keeps opening minimarkets]. But look at what has happened since – most of these stores are closing down for lack of customers, because Jews from all over the world, and non-Jews who respect Jerusalem, are those who come here and they don’t want to see minimarkets open on Shabbat in the Holy City.”

But the most important issue inside the haredi sector that still holds up the decision to run a haredi candidate is to be found elsewhere, deep inside the legendary unity in that sector, a matter that, since the 2013 elections, has been dealt a serious blow.

“In 2013, Nir Barkat was reelected – not because he had the seculars behind him – or as they are called, the “pluralist” vote – but because the unity inside our ranks was shaken with the desertion of the Gur Hassidim, the largest group among us, from supporting our haredi candidate [MK Meir Porush] and joining Barkat’s camp,” says the senior adviser. “We don’t want that to happen again. And unless this aspect is totally cleared up and agreed upon, there will be no haredi candidate.”

Asked if, in fact, the major issue at stake is not whether to have a haredi mayor, but saving what is left of the somewhat fragile unity among the different parts of haredi society, the adviser immediately agreed that this is exactly the point. For the past four and half years, Daitch has been holding the portfolio for haredi housing projects. He is also a member of the local planning and construction committee (and its acting head since Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman is under police investigation).

This is exactly the major reason why haredim wish to have a haredi mayor – to take care of the severe lack of housing projects for their community, an issue they feel only they can take care of for themselves.

The only answer IJ succeeded in getting from Daitch, on his way out the door, was what he would do if elected: “Run every morning at dawn behind the garbage truck, to see that they clean well.”

In regard to the reluctance of the non-haredi residents to see a haredi at the helm of the city again, the senior adviser answered with more than a taste of bitterness: “It’s about time we are considered legitimate, to be judged by our acts and not by our clothing.”

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