mordechai eliyahu 224.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The former chief rabbi and modern Orthodox spiritual leader Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu has endorsed Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat in the upcoming mayoral elections, Barkat's office said Thursday.
The endorsement by the 80-year-old rabbinical heavyweight, who served as the Sephardi chief rabbi from 1983 to 1993, is a major boost for the secular Barkat, who has long been courting the modern Orthodox vote in the largely traditional city and is facing off against at least one haredi candidate in the race.
The self-made hi-tech millionaire, who is the front-runner in the widely fickle polls, needs the widespread support of both modern Orthodox and secular voters in the city if he is to defeat the haredi candidate - or candidates - in the November 11 race.
With one in three city voters haredi, the haredi candidate is automatically propelled to the front of the race. Haredim have shown strong voter turnout in the city, while the non-haredi public has previously been apathetic about the city's mayoral elections, with a mere 32 percent turnout among secular and modern Orthodox voters in the elections five years ago.
Barkat has long sought out the vote of modern Orthodox residents of the city and repudiated his association with the ruling Kadima Party to lead a non-profit campaign over the past year against the division of Jerusalem as proposed by the Olmert government.
Over the last year, he also formed a close working relationship with Rabbi Shmuel Zaafrani, who heads Eliahu's office, and has worked with him to appoint a modern Orthodox rabbi for Jerusalem instead of a haredi.
At a recent campaign event Barkat held at his Jerusalem home, he launched an educational reform plan for the city supported by modern Orthodox rabbis, as well as secular and traditional Jerusalemites.
"The support of Rabbi Eliahu is very important to me and commits me to continue working towards the unity of Jerusalem and the unity of the Zionist camp in the city," Barkat said in a written statement on Thursday.
Even before the endorsement, the mayoral race, which is just two months away, faced a major possible shake-up this week with news that former Shas leader Aryeh Deri is mulling to run in the elections.
The possibility that Deri may run against the haredi candidate in the race, MK Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism Party, set off alarm bells in the Porush camp worried that a split in the haredi vote could propel Barkat to victory.
Deri, who served a two-year prison term for accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust, is awaiting a legal opinion on whether his past criminal record prevents him from running for pubic office this year.
By law, a politician who has been convicted of a crime that bears "moral turpitude" - such as Deri's offenses - cannot run for political office until a seven-year period elapses from his release from prison.
The seven year period ends in 2009.
In order to run, Deri would need to argue that the law does not apply to his case because the law stipulating a seven-year waiting period was passed after his prison term began.
The Supreme Court, which is certain to be petitioned if Deri decides to run, is seen as highly unlikely to support such a legal view.
Meanwhile, a newspaper public opinion poll released Thursday showed that Barkat remains the front-runner in the elections, whether or not Deri runs.
Barkat would defeat Deri 55 percent to 41% and would beat Porush 58% to 38%, the Dahaf Institute poll in the Yediot Aharonot daily found.
In a four-way race, Barkat would gain 49% of the vote, compared to 22% for Deri 17% for Porush and a mere 7% for the Israeli-Russian billionaire tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak.
The Dahaf telephone poll of 500 people, which in the last mayoral election incorrectly favored the secular candidate, cited a 4.5 percent margin of error.
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