How outsider candidate Moshe Lion won Jerusalem

Lion indeed owes his slim victory (at press time he led Ofer Berkovitch by just a few thousand votes) to the Degel Hatorah haredi stream, to Shas and to the hardal stream led by Arieh King.

November 15, 2018 21:46
3 minute read.
Moshe Lion

Moshe Lion celebrates his victory, winning the Jerusalem mayoral election. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Thousands of yeshiva students identifying with the Degel Hatorah stream (Lithuanian hassidism) danced in ecstasy outside and inside the large Pavilion banquet hall in the Talpiot industrial zone late Tuesday night, celebrating the victory of Jerusalem’s next mayor. Interestingly, none of the celebrants were chanting the name of the winner of these elections, or even the name of the loser. For these young men, the victory was elsewhere.

“Hu ha, what happened? Litzman is screwed!” they chanted, undaunted by the rain outside or the deafening noise of the orchestra inside the hall, belting out tunes like “Moshiah, Moshiah.”

Moshe Lion won the election following a tough and exhausting battle, six years after he moved from Givatayim to Jerusalem, unfamiliar then with many of the little things that Jerusalemites are so aware of, such as favored eating spots and local slang words. At first he may have been laughed at, but he remained here, starting as a sole opposition council member. After three years, he joined Nir Barkat’s list and became deputy mayor, in charge of community centers and councils. He forged strong bonds with the haredi and religious sectors during these years, consolidating his position in the next elections.

Jerusalemites who rejected him, suspected him or simply didn’t want to have anything to do with Lion pointed to his close relationships with ministers Avigdor Liberman and Arye Deri, personalities who, for years, have been perceived as suspected of corruption by a large part of the public. As a result, Lion was viewed as a candidate who would “sell the city to the haredim” – the ultimate threat to the city’s secularists.

Lion indeed owes his slim victory (at press time he led Ofer Berkovitch by just a few thousand votes) to the Degel Hatorah haredi stream, to Shas and to the hardal stream led by Arieh King. The fact that he didn’t win even a single council seat – an unprecedented occurrence – puts him totally in the hands of coalition partners. Lion will be a mayor without any solid base from the general sector of the city. Unless he demonstrates an ability to consolidate control tightly in his hands, the city could be run by MK Moshe Gafni and Deri. Lion’s independence and freedom of action are at stake.

As for what actually happened and the significance, two interesting facts emerged during the main campaign and particularly during the two weeks between the rounds.

1) The split between Degel (Lithuanians, the majority in the haredi sector) and Aguda (the hassidic minority), with Degel supporting Lion and Aguda supporting Berkovitch, will not stop at the gates of Jerusalem. Sources in both parties say openly that this is just a preview of what will happen in the next national Knesset elections.

2) The mobilization of hassidim, especially Gur, for Berkovitch brings to light a Jerusalemite phenomenon of different sectors working together: hassidim, moderate religious and seculars. Berkovitch managed to attract a broad spectrum of society, as some 3,000 volunteers dressed in the yellow T-shirt of Hitorerut knocked on doors encouraging residents to vote to reject political deals. That is what Lion represented to them; Berkovitch gave them the sense that Jerusalemites matter more than politics.

In his victory speech, Lion pledged to be the mayor of all the residents – those who voted for him and those who voted for his rival. He has five years to implement his vision. However, and above all, the vast majority of Jerusalemites who chose not to vote had the final word. The electoral verdict was decided by a mere 37% of participation, which suggests that most residents simply don’t care who makes some of the most important decisions about their own daily life. This may be the most critical issue to deal with.

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