Agudat Yisrael still stalling on endorsement in J’lem mayoral race

Meanwhile, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri caused controversy by seemingly referring to Berkowitz as “the devil” in a speech he gave last week.

November 11, 2018 21:35
3 minute read.
Jerusalem municipal election.

Jerusalem municipal election 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

With the Jerusalem mayoral battle delicately poised as the candidates head into the final stretch ahead of the run-off election on Tuesday, the haredi party Agudat Yisrael – which commands some 26,000 votes – is yet to endorse either Ofer Berkowitz or Moshe Lion.

Despite Degel Hatorah and Shas having strongly backed Lion, Agudah and its rabbis have been notably reticent to do so, largely because of the bitter acrimony between Agudah and Degel over the municipal elections last month.

The expectation was that Agudah would in fact endorse Lion, who is from the National Religious community, in an announcement by its rabbinical council in Friday’s editions of the hassidic newspapers Hamodia and Hamevaser, but no declaration was forthcoming.

Degel and Agudah decided not to run together on a joint United Torah Judaism list in several municipal districts in the municipal elections due to internal disputes about fair representation for each side.

Degel went on to humiliate Agudah in Jerusalem by obtaining six seats in the municipal council to Agudah’s three, while Agudah’s candidate for mayor Yossi Daitch came in fourth place in the mayoral race in the capital.

Several other Degel victories over Agudah around the country have created bad blood between the two factions, and the latter is reluctant to back the former’s candidate for mayor in Jerusalem despite the fact that Lion is religious, while Berkowitz is not and his party is proudly pluralistic in its approach to religious issues.

A source in Agudah said that Berkowitz has made “better offers” to Agudah in terms of municipal portfolios than Lion, and stressed that Degel’s failure to thus-far support Agudah’s candidate in the run-off election in Safed, Nachman Gelbach, was another contributing factor to Agudah’s reluctance to support Lion.

The source said, however, that Degel support for Gelbach, among other requirements, could swing Agudah’s support to Lion.

Even if Agudah does end up backing Lion it could come in the form of a general declaration by the party’s rabbinical council, not one signed by each individual grand rabbi of the constituent hassidic communities, something which could cause low turnout from the hassidic sector, said the source.

Meanwhile, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri caused controversy by seemingly referring to Berkowitz as “the devil” in a speech he gave last week.

In video footage first published by the B’Hardei Haredim haredi news website, Deri said that Shas’s late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had endorsed Lion in the last municipal elections for Jerusalem mayor, and that all the senior rabbinic leadership of the haredi Sephardi and non-hassidic sectors were backing Lion against “a candidate who is not religious at all, who wants to simply secularize Jerusalem.”

Continued Deri, “I hope that on Tuesday we will succeed, the Satan has issued a call-up order and is unfortunately recruiting all his troops... the Satan is recruiting everyone and is trying everything he can to win through all kinds of nonsense, slander, lies, divide and conquer.”

Berkowitz’s party Hitorerut said that the candidate’s security was being increased following the comments, and said that it had sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to remove the interior minister’s authority over the elections in Jerusalem from Deri in light of the comments.

Deri’s office said in a statement in response to the furor that his words had been taken out of context and that he had said in the same speech that he did not know Berkowitz personally, but that the candidate gave him a good impression.

The statement added that Deri had been referring to the divisions among the haredi community over the municipal elections, and that it seemed as if the Satan had entered among them and caused these divisions, which could lead to the defeat of the religious candidate, Lion.

“Minister Deri apologizes to Ofer Berkowitz if he understood [the comments] differently,” the statement read.

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