Moshe Lion (L) and Ofer Berkotich (R).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Although there will be several runoff elections in Israeli municipalities today, none are as important or interesting as the one that will take place in Jerusalem between Moshe Lion and Ofer Berkovitch.
On October 30, Lion won 33% while Berkovitch garnered 29%, followed by Ze’ev Elkin with 20% and Yossi Daitch with 17%. The second round is being held because no candidate won the required 40% to win the mayoral race. Even though voters enjoyed a public holiday in a bid to raise the turnout, only 38% of eligible Jerusalemites (240,000) actually cast their ballots.
Discounting Palestinian neighborhoods, where most residents boycotted the election for ideological reasons, the number rose to 51%, still below the national average of 56%. In haredi neighborhoods, turnout reached 70% while in secular and religiously mixed neighborhoods, it was significantly lower – between 50% and 60%. This time around, the election is not a work holiday and polls open only at 1 p.m. – so the turnout is expected to drop. Voters, incidentally, should go to the polling station they voted at last time, with an ID card.
Lion, 57 – who comes from the national religious camp and once served as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu – is the front-runner, having won some 20,000 more votes in the first round than Berkovitch, 36, a secular former deputy mayor who advocates pluralism. But Berkovitch’s Hitorerut (Awakening) Party won a whopping seven seats on the 31-seat city council, giving him an edge over Lion, whose Yerushalayim Sheli (My Jerusalem) faction did not win a single seat.
Lion may use the six seats of the haredi Degel Hatorah Party, which backed him, as a political base. But if elected, he would require a special permit from the Interior Ministry to enable him to be a mayor without a council list.
Some 20,000 Jerusalemites voted for lists that didn’t cross the electoral threshold – including Lion’s list.
To add to the already emotionally laden race, Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Deri sparked furor last week by appearing to refer to Berkovitch as “the devil.” In the video of a speech published on a haredi website, Deri said all the top Sephardi rabbis were backing Lion against “a candidate who is not religious at all; who wants to simply secularize Jerusalem.”
Deri then said: “I hope that on Tuesday we will succeed. The Satan [devil] has issued a call-up order and is unfortunately recruiting all his troops.” Even though Deri later apologized to Berkovitch, saying his words had been taken out of context, we strongly condemn his comments.
As the race heated up, leading haredi rabbis did in fact endorse Lion, while a growing number of younger yeshiva students openly voiced support for Berkovitch. Lion received the support of outgoing mayor Nir Barkat (Likud) and council member Arieh King (Meuhadim), while former mayoral candidate MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) and former minister Benny Begin (Likud) backed Berkovitch. Interestingly, Netanyahu has so far declined to publicly endorse either candidate after his candidate, Elkin, came in third.
Although Shas and the non-hassidic Ashkenazi Degel Hatorah parties strongly back Lion, Agudat Yisrael – United Torah Judaism’s hassidic other half, which commands some 26,000 votes – had as of press time yet to endorse either candidate following a bitter battle with Degel Hatorah over last month’s municipal elections.
The bottom line is that it remains a tight race between two strong candidates. In a direct appeal to English-speaking voters, both candidates wrote powerful pieces in last Friday’s issue of The Jerusalem Post
’s weekend supplement, In Jerusalem.
“In this crucial final ballot for Jerusalem’s future, I urge you to vote for a born-and-raised Jerusalemite with no national political strings attached, one who has worked and will continue to work every day to make sure that Jerusalem is a place where everybody can feel comfortable,” Berkovitch wrote.
In contrast, Lion wrote, “I intend to bring together as broad a coalition as possible to serve every resident and every sector according to its needs, beliefs and wishes. True and courageous leadership knows how to accomplish this modestly, honestly and sensitively.”
We urge all of Jerusalem’s 636,000 voters to go out and vote in the today’s second round, realizing that what’s at stake is no less than the future of Israel’s capital and largest city.
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