Haredi fighting gives unity candidate Lion a headache on election day

Worth some 9,000 votes in Jerusalem, Frankel’s ballot and that of his community could end up swaying the election – oddly enough for the secular, pluralist candidate Berkovitch.

November 13, 2018 22:17
4 minute read.
Ofer Berkovitch votes during the second mayoral elections.

Ofer Berkovitch votes during the second mayoral elections. . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A host of cameramen, photographers and assorted journalists awaited the arrival of Moshe Lion at his polling booth in the capital’s Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood on Tuesday for the traditional photo-op with the candidate.

But one enterprising young man from the haredi community managed to slip ahead of the Jerusalem mayoral candidate in the line, held up his voting slip for Ofer Berkovitch in front of the press corps, and proudly posted it into the ballot box.

The man – Shlomo Frankel – was from the extremist Jerusalem Faction community, which instructed its followers to vote for Berkovitch due to its antipathy for its fellow haredim of the Degel Hatorah political grouping.

Haredi resident votes Ofer Berkovitch in Jerusalem election.

Worth some 9,000 votes in Jerusalem, Frankel’s ballot and that of his community could end up swaying the election – oddly enough for the secular, pluralist candidate Berkovitch.

Unfazed however, Lion smilingly approached the ballot box himself together with his wife and deposited his own vote, before addressing the host of assembled reporters.

“I very much hope that, God willing and beginning tonight, we will protect our unity and will bring everyone in Jerusalem to unity, and that everyone will join me in the coalition and, God willing, the unity which we so badly need in Jerusalem will return,” he said, repeating several times his central campaign claim that he can bring all residents of the city together.

More than that, however, he would not say, leaving promptly as reporters hurled questions at him from afar.

Back at the polling booth, religious-Zionist voters seemed to be voting generally for Lion, while the haredim in the neighborhood, home to the Jerusalem Faction’s flagship yeshiva Maalot Hatorah, were all voting Berkovitch.

“I can’t vote for someone who’s not religious,” said Esther, who voted for Ze’ev Elkin in the first round.

“Berkovitch is a lefty and he won’t keep Jerusalem religious,” she opined.

Goldie, who came with her husband Eli, was of similar mind, saying that despite believing Berkovitch to be a “very nice guy,” said that he was “too lefty for me” and was voting Lion.
Eli was on the same wavelength.

“My head said Berkovitch and my heart said Lion, but I voted with my heart,” he said, adding however that “At the end of the day, it is God who crowns kings, so we’ll see.”

Frankel for his part adopted the Jerusalem Faction’s party line, arguing that Lion, not Berkovitch, will secularize the city – despite the fact that Lion himself is religious and Berkovitch is not – because Lion is friends with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has criticized the haredi leadership and community on several issues and has advanced legislation to draft haredim into the army.

He denied totally that the Jerusalem Faction was backing Berkovitch just to defeat their bitter foes in Degel.

Meanwhile, in the haredi neighborhood of Ezrat Torah with large numbers of hassidic voters, things were not going Lion’s way either.

Stories abounded about how the non-hassidic haredim of Degel had disrespected the hassidic grand rabbis by booing hassidic representatives after the first round of municipal elections and danced in Jerusalem crying “six-three” – the tally of seats by which Degel beat Agudah in the Jerusalem municipal council.

“It is a real insult and injury to the grand rabbis” said one hassid from Gur, the largest hassidic community in Israel with the most influential grand rabbi, who leads Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages.

Another hassid, who refused to say which community he was from, noted acerbically that Degel and Shas were backing a secular candidate in Safed against the Agudah candidate and had backed a secular woman in Haifa, but were telling their followers it was forbidden to back a secular candidate in Jerusalem.

“It’s just hypocrisy,” he said intensely, and intimated that he had voted Berkovitch.
Another Gur hassid said that he and others had received automated phone calls from the Gur leadership telling them it was a religious obligation to vote but not to vote Lion.

It seems unfortunate and somewhat hapless for Lion that as a man from the religious-Zionist community, he has become part of a severe and increasingly bitter internecine haredi battle between the different factions, especially in light of his assertion that he alone can unite the city.

But if the supporters of Shas and Degel would have voted in large enough numbers – and if he manages to vacuum up enough ballots from those who voted Elkin in the first round – he may yet triumphantly enter city hall in Kikar Safra later today.

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