Corridors of Power: The numbers game

For most of the people involved in an electoral campaign this period is synonymous with stress and hard work.

Nir Barkat (photo credit: Marc israel Sellem)
Nir Barkat
(photo credit: Marc israel Sellem)
For most of the people involved in an electoral campaign – be they the candidates or their staff – this period is synonymous with stress and hard work. But for others, this is an incomparable time of sheer pleasure. The latter rub their hands with glee at the sight of the candidates running around and working hard to please them, while they refrain from showing even the slightest sign of support.
For the sake of those unfamiliar with the customs of local politicians, I just referred to the representatives of the United Torah Judaism party on the city council who, in this campaign as in previous ones, know that they hold the keys to the next mayor’s office. It’s a simple matter of mathematics.
According to the UTJ city councillors, the haredi sector has about 95,000 voters for the upcoming municipal elections, as haredim tend to vote as a bloc while the non-haredi Jewish population has a low participation rate and does not all vote the same way. That makes the haredim almost automatically the real anointers of the next mayor, and both Mayor Nir Barkat and his challenger, Moshe Lion, are well aware of that, hence their efforts to convince the haredi rabbis and spiritual leaders to lend them their support.
For the moment, the candidate who will obtain the haredi support is the most well-guarded secret in the city and, based on what occurred in previous elections, it will probably remain that way until almost the last moment. Based on previous elections, the rabbis, with the active counseling of their representatives on the city council, will come to a decision some time after Succot. But that crucial decision will remain carefully veiled until a few days before election day, October 22.
Meanwhile, Barkat and Lion, whether they will admit it publicly or deny it, will be very careful not to cause any dissatisfaction, or worse, arouse any anger toward them from the haredi community. One should not see in this any hint of a dictatorship on the part of the haredi sector but simply the logical result of their being a wellorganized community in which personal taste has very little consequence versus the general welfare of this community when it is at risk.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear what really matters in the haredi sector and will make them choose the candidate they will support – and grant him victory. Firstly, and perhaps surprisingly, it is not, or not only, what that candidate will promise to “give the haredim” once he is elected. That is one of the myths this column would like to dispel.
“It’s not just a matter of which budgets will be directed toward our needs,” explained one of the haredi representatives on the city council earlier this week. “In that regard, we have no serious complaints about Mayor Barkat. It’s more about how we are treated.”
He added that his leaders found in Lion a nice person with whom “we can talk and have a good conversation, not only about election matters.”
So here is an interesting novelty. Haredim request funding for their needs, but they don’t like to obtain it in an unpleasant manner.
But contrary to common assumption, the haredi leaders do not want to be the sole appointers of the winning candidate. For several internal reasons, they are very careful to rally the support of an additional sector of the population for the candidate they prefer. That sector would be the part of the national religious sector called “hardalim.”
In other words, not the liberals who would support city councillor Rachel Azaria. Their exact number is not known, but another common assumption is there is a large number of hardalim in the city.
At that point, one could assume that the haredi leaders would try to obtain the backing of the hardalim for a candidate that would suit them the best and close a deal. Well, it doesn’t work that way. That would be too easy.
It is the duty of the candidates to garner the support of the hardalim and, eventually, the whole religious sector of the city’s population.
“The candidate who proves that he is backed by the hardalim and the religious in general and will also treat us with respect and prove that he genuinely cares about our needs will get our attention,” explained a haredi source. Now, in this regard, Lion, who is also religious, could think he has some advantage and told the readers of the national religious website Kippa that he was the best person to serve this sector’s interests.
But alas, Rabbi Benjamin Lau, a prominent figure in that community, came up with a response that poured cold water on Lion’s enthusiasm and criticized this “sectorial attitude that should no longer be the language of the national religious community.”
Does that mean that the above-mentioned conditions will be sufficient to obtain the haredi votes? Again, that would be too easy. Where would be the pleasure of the game that comes only once in five years? “That would be a good beginning,” said the source, “but we have plenty of time to check, compare and weigh each of the candidates. There’s no rush.”