With only two days until the capital’s highly contested mayoral election, Likud Beytenu candidate Moshe Lion has garnered numerous endorsements from leading right-wing politicians, Shas’s Council of Torah Sages and some of the capital’s largest labor organizations.
Lion is still lagging in the polls, but a Rafi Smith poll for The Jerusalem Post and Globes released on Thursday showed the gap narrowing. Following a poll published a week before by Ma’ariv, which gave Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat a 28 percentage-point lead (although 43% of those polled said they remain undecided), the Smith poll put Barkat only 6% ahead (47% to 41%), with 3% saying they would vote for ultra-Orthodox candidate Haim Epstein and 9% undecided.
The coveted haredi vote is splintered or undecided, according to informed sources, and that sector might be key in swinging the vote one way or another.
One of the most glowing endorsements for Lion came in a joint letter from Transportation and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
“Moshe Lion is a religious Zionist, a Likud member and a man of action with significant leadership experience,” their letter stated. “All of his public positions to this point have concerned the development and successful growth of Jerusalem.”
Referring to his roles as the head of the Jerusalem Development Authority, Israel Railways and director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term, the politicians praised the candidate for infusing millions of shekels into the capital’s struggling economy.
Lion is “the only candidate who will keep the capital united,” the endorsement concluded.
Arieh King, who heads the Outlying Neighborhoods Slate in his run for the Jerusalem Municipal Council, endorsed Lion, while issuing stinging criticism about Barkat’s tenure.
“Mayor Nir Barkat was not a good mayor for the majority of Jerusalem’s residents,” wrote King. “He hit hard at Jerusalem’s most underprivileged and struggling neighborhoods, neglected the Old City, street cleanliness and essentially worked to divide the city, perpetuating [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon’s policies in the capital of the Jewish people.”
King added: “For Jerusalem, Moshe Lion is the only choice.”
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Likud MK Gila Gamliel described Lion as the “right man at the right time,” in a joint statement.
“I have no doubt that Moshe Lion is the right man at the right time to change the face of Jerusalem and make it a proud and open city again, where young people, students and women have equal rights,” the statement read.
Internal Affairs Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis and MK Miri Regev (Likud) also offered strong endorsements for Lion.
Shas’s Council of Torah Sages endorsed Lion in a letter published last week. Lion was scheduled to meet with the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef immediately before he became ill to gain a public endorsement, but the rabbi’s hospitalization prevented the meeting.
The remaining members of the council, Rabbis Shalom Cohen, Shimon Baadani and Moshe Maya, issued the endorsement, stating that it was the will of the late rabbi.
In their letter, they said that Lion was “a member of our community” referring to the fact that he is Sephardi and Orthodox – although not haredi – and that he has worked hard in the arena of public service.
Lion has secured support from the mainstream Ashkenazi non-hassidic haredi leaders – although the major hassidic groups have yet to announce whom they will back.
Additionally, Lion has the support of some national-religious leaders.
Rabbi Haim Steiner, one of the four rabbinical leaders of the Tekuma party – a conservative political movement within the national-religious world that ran as part of Bayit Yehudi in last national election – expressed his support for Lion last week.
So has Likud MK and Manhigut Yehudit leader Moshe Feiglin.
A representative for Lion, who requested anonymity, described Lion Thursday as “the candidate of the right-wing,” while dismissing Barkat as “the candidate of the left-wing.”
“The overwhelming support from ministers and members of Knesset from the national camp is testament to Lion’s vision, outlook and ideology as a man of the Land of Israel and his unwavering commitment to Jerusalem – the eternal and undivided sovereign capital of the State of Israel,” the representative said.
Despite strong support from a number of right-wing and religious leaders, the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, the political party of the hassidic community that is part of United Torah Judaism, announced Monday that each hassidic dynasty would decide for itself whom to support for mayor in cities where the party has not officially endorsed a candidate.
The announcement has huge ramifications for the mayoral race in Jerusalem and comes as a blow to Lion, who requires as many votes as possible from the haredi community to close the large gap in support between him and Barkat.
Additionally, The Jerusalem Post
understands from well-placed sources that two of the biggest hassidic communities in Jerusalem, Gur and Belz, have both come to “understandings” with Barkat that they will not vote for Lion, while several others, including Viznitz, have agreed not to support the Likud Beytenu candidate.
Sources in the Aguda say the hassidic groups are not willing to endanger their relationship with Barkat while Lion’s poll numbers are so unfavorable.
“In every city in which there is an agreed upon candidate for mayor by Agudat Yisrael [one must] vote for him, and in cities in which Agudat Yisrael has not agreed on a candidate, people should vote in accordance with the instructions of their rabbi,” read the party’s announcement, which was published in several haredi daily newspapers last week.
However, despite the claims of “understandings” between the major hassidic groups and the mayor, a spokeswoman for Barkat’s campaign denied that any agreements had been reached among them.
“There is no agreement at all, [but] Barkat is happy with the broad support he has among all sectors in Jerusalem – as opposed to Liberman and [Shas leader Arye] Deri’s shady deal from Givatayim,” Barkat’s campaign said in response, referencing the strong support Lion has received from Liberman and Deri, as well the fact that Lion until recently lived in Givatayim.
One of the key problems facing Lion is the war between two factions within the non-hassidic haredi community.
Degel Hatorah, the mainstream non-hassidic haredi party, has endorsed Lion, but a splinter group led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach that represents several thousand votes in Jerusalem, refuses to fall in line with Degel’s instructions due to an internal conflict within the community.
Additionally, Lion has yet to be endorsed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has endorsed 43 other Likud mayoral candidates throughout the nation.
Nonetheless, Lion’s camp remains confident that its candidate will win, and questioned the substance of Barkat’s many endorsements.
“One has to wonder what kind of concessions Barkat agreed to with these parties in order to receive these endorsements,” the representative stated.
“When Lion becomes mayor, the power of the Left in the municipality will be broken.”
Barkat celebrated his 54th birthday on Saturday night at the Marrakesh restaurant in Talpiot, together with his family and campaign team.
“What a great surprise,” Barkat posted on Facebook. “The best gift you can give me is if you go out on Tuesday and give me the right to serve you for another five years.”Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.