Corridors of Power: A new deal?

Mayor Nir Barkat has said he would seek the broadest possible coalition, but it seems he has only 16 obvious partners out of 31 seats.

Moshe Lion and Nir Barkat 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Moshe Lion and Nir Barkat 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nir Barkat is the incontestable winner of the Jerusalem mayoral elections, but his victory is causing him a serious headache: The final vote count could leave him with a very narrow margin on the city council – 16 seats (including his own) out of 31. In other words, he’s looking more at a tightrope walk than at a working coalition.
To reverse this unbearable situation, Barkat will have to admit that circumstances take priority over his natural (and understandable) tendency to settle accounts with those he considers “disloyal” – namely Meretz leader Pepe Alalu and United Torah Judaism’s Yitzhak Pindrus, both his former deputies.
After 10 years in politics (five at the head of the opposition and the last five as mayor), Barkat is no longer a novice, but now he will have to deal with an unprecedented situation when it comes to the haredi parties: Following the multiple splits in their ranks, there is no longer a single authority guiding their decisions. Haim Epstein of the Lithuanian faction Bnei Torah will probably be the first one invited to join the coalition – and no, he had no preelection agreement with Barkat, just, apparently, an understanding that as long as he didn’t attack Barkat personally in his campaign (and he didn’t), he would be a welcome partner.
But what about the other parties, like United Torah Judaism and Shas? In a way, this development – the fragmentation of the haredi sector – shouldn’t surprise the mayor, since his two advisers on the haredi community, Avraham Kreuzer and Ya’acov (Yaki) Izac, did an impressive job of amplifying and tracing the deep fissures that already existed in that society, to Barkat’s benefit. What candidate Moshe Lion failed to understand was that the haredi sector is no longer a monolithic bloc that can be driven as one man in a single direction. The Lithuanian Kreuzer and hassidic Izac identified the looming splits, worked hard mostly on the hassidic groups (hence the critical decision by the Ger and Belz sects to allow their members to vote as they wished) and crushed the alliance Lion expected with the haredim, ultimately depriving him of the victory he was convinced he would get easily.
Yet the present situation is no easier for Barkat. A quick glance at the results gives us an explanation for the headache he is experiencing. To his own list (reduced to four seats), he can add Rachel Azaria’s Yerushalmim (two seats) and Ofer Berkovitch’s Hitorerut B’Yerushalayim (four seats). Adding Epstein and Pisgat Ze’ev’s Yael Antebi at one seat each makes for 12 seats (13 including Barkat). The next challenge will be choosing whether to include both Dov Kalmanovitz’s Bayit Yehudi (one seat), or with Shmuel Shkedi’s and Arieh King’s United Jerusalem (two seats). That would make a total of 16 seats – not enough to run a council without clashes – and it is possible that the parties will refuse to coexist.
Barkat will have to compromise and invite either Meretz (two seats) or the haredi parties (eight seats for UTJ and five seats for Shas). And herein lies the major obstacle.
“The problem is not the haredi community, of course,” a source close to the mayor explained in the aftermath of the elections, “but their leaders – both Yitzhak Pindrus and Yossi Daitch [of United Torah Judaism’s Shlomei Emunim faction] went too far in their Machiavellian tricks to enthrone Moshe Lion over Barkat. This was disloyal; it cannot work.”
The same goes for Alalu, who urged his constituency throughout the campaign to abstain and avoid voting for Barkat, continued the source, adding that “faithfulness is the key word here.”
Of course, nobody in Barkat’s circles dared, at least by press time, to say loud and clear that the invitation to UTJ, Shas or Meretz to join his coalition would come with a price – the resignation of Pindrus and/or Alalu. But the fact is that starting early Sunday morning, that issue was already the focus of talks within the UTJ leadership, including its highest spiritual authorities. The tensions and violence that have culminated in the awkward aggression toward Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the leader of the Ashkenazi haredi community, may well have had some connection to this, too: There have been rumors that Pindrus has been fighting for his life politically, running from rabbi to rabbi to regain approval following Lion’s failure and its consequent repercussions for the haredi community. He has not been answering calls from journalists.
As for Alalu, Barkat may well be spared having to express his request for new leadership. The rebellion within Meretz – which lost a seat despite joining with Labor and the Greens – was reaching its peak by Monday, with growing numbers demanding that Alalu give up his spot to his No. 2, Laura Wharton. •