Elections 2013: In the running

A who’s who of the 16 parties and candidates running in Jerusalem's upcoming city council election.

Meir Turgeman and Nir Barkat 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Meir Turgeman and Nir Barkat 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sixteen parties are running for Jerusalem’s upcoming city council, trying to win the residents’ hearts and minds and secure the right to represent them. In addition to the usual lineup representing the city’s major Jewish sectors – haredi, national- religious, secular – this year’s campaign features several other sectarian parties – seniors and the retired, a specific neighborhood, businesspeople. In a surprising turn of events, there has been a major split within the haredi community, resulting in three new parties.
Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, there has been no party to represent the Arab residents, who comprise 36 percent of the city’s population.
Here are details about the parties in the campaign.
First, the familiar ones. In the haredi sector, there are three Ashkenazi parties and one Sephardi. In addition to United Torah Judaism, which is an alliance between Degel Hatorah (Lithuanian haredim) and Shlomei Emunim (hassidim) – linked to the same party in the Knesset (six seats) and the sole representative of this sector – there are two other parties, both of which have split from UTJ:
Bnei Torah
The faction’s allegiance is to Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.
The leader of the group, Haim Epstein, is (as of press time) also running for mayor. It is interesting to note that Bnei Torah, though representing Ashkenazim, has at least one Sephardi candidate (No. 6). The party split on the grounds of its leader’s refusal to support Moshe Lion for mayor due to his backing by MK Avigdor Liberman, considered an enemy of the yeshiva world.
Generally speaking, Bnei Torah represents a more zealous wing of the ultra-Orthodox sector, which does not share the relatively new tendency of many haredim to leave the yeshiva world for professional training and/ or secular studies. According to official estimates, Bnei Torah’s capacity is a few thousand votes.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are representatives of the growing group of haredim who leave their yeshiva studies, either completely or partially, and pursue vocational and/or academic studies but remain ultra-Orthodox. This new faction, which tried to run in the January Knesset elections, is called Tov (“Good”). For the local elections, it is running as Tov L’yerushalayim.
At the head of the list is the founder of the movement, Yosef Verdiger, followed by Yehezkel Rosenblum. Tov has added two Sephardi haredim to its list.
United Torah Judaism
This party has been representing Ashkenazi haredi residents for the past 20 years, having reached an agreement to include both Lithuanian haredim and hassidim on the same list. The position of leader alternates between the two groups, a crucial point that determines who will receive the title of deputy mayor (in case of participation in the coalition) – and the salary that goes with it.
Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus will be second to the representative of the hassidim, Yossi Daitch, but Pindrus’s chances of retaining the title are good, as most forecasts predict that the party will win about eight seats. Pindrus is also the driving force behind recruiting Lion to challenge Mayor Nir Barkat.
The other members of the party are selected by the movement’s rabbis, with representatives of all the factions and hassidic sects. UTJ has eight seats on the city council.Shas
There have not been any splits within Shas, but there has been a strange decision by party leader MK Arye Deri. He put former deputy mayor Eli Simhayoff, one of the suspects in the Holyland affair, at the head of the list, even though the trial is far from over.
Veteran Shmuel Yitzhaki, famous for his independent positions and declarations – sometimes against his own party – has been taken off the list.
Shas will try to gain as many seats as possible to recapture its former glory. After all, the Jerusalem city council is where the movement began its odyssey 25 years ago. Shas will also try to obtain more seats on the heels of the weakening of UTJ, which has splintered into three new parties. The Sephardi party currently holds four seats.
Jerusalem Will Succeed
This party backs Barkat, taking up the fight against the parts of Likud that are running with his challenger. Realizing the need to attract various groups, the party includes religious and secular, new olim, former assistants, municipality employees and women – but only at No. 4. One surprising choice, Meir Turgeman, his most vociferous opponent on the city council during the past five years, now his No. 3, probably represents the best way for Barkat to overcome the obstacles to his being elected mayor again.
Barkat’s party now has four seats on the council and Turgeman’s has one.
Likud Beytenu
Splits are apparently the new trend in this campaign.
In this case it involves Likud, which has split between the group supporting Lion and the group that remains faithful to Barkat.
As far as gender issues are concerned, the first woman in the party is at No. 5 – not a very realistic position, considering that Likud has only one seat on the city council. But right after Lion is veteran Likud activist Dudi Amsalem, who was brought into the municipality with the embellishing of the seat of city government by former mayor Ehud Olmert. He moved to Jerusalem just recently, having lived in Ma’aleh Adumim for the past 10 years. Elisha Peleg, a Likud representative in Barkat’s coalition, is No. 4. Yerushalayim Beytenu, the local branch of Yisrael Beytenu, has two seats on the city council while Likud has one.
Meretz-Labor-The Greens
Meretz, the veteran party that led the massive campaigns against haredi coercion in the city back in the early ’80s, represents some of the significant paradoxes in this city. The party advocates dividing the city, with east Jerusalem as the future capital of the Palestinian state it supports. On the other hand, Meretz has always been at the forefront of the struggle to enable better conditions for the city’s Arab residents, which have for years suffered from neglect and low budgets. Since the early ’80s the party has held three seats on the city council, but most of the time was not a member of the coalition.
During Mayor Nir Barkat’s term, Meretz has been in and out, depending on the mayor’s positions and actions regarding east Jerusalem. Most of these concerns have related to construction for Jewish residents in the Arab neighborhoods.
During the current campaign, Meretz leader Pepe Alalu was initially a mayoral candidate, but withdrew his candidacy following pressure from all sides that he could jeopardize Barkat’s reelection.
Alalu then called on his supporters to cast a blank ballot in the mayoral vote, but was strongly criticized for this call, which was again interpreted as an obstacle to Barkat’s reelection of Barkat. The mayor is considered by many in his camp as preferable to Moshe Lion. The decision to run together with the representatives of the Labor Party (two candidates) and with the Greens is hoped to win more votes.
The internal dispute over the leadership of the local Meretz party, and the disagreement between Alalu and Labor chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich, who publicly announced her support for Barkat, as well as the skirmishes with other secular lists (Hitorerut and Yerushalmim) may have reduced Meretz’s chances of gaining more seats. Following Alalu on the list are Laura Wharton (Meretz), Itai Gutler (Labor) Meir Margalit and Rona Orobano (Labor).
Bayit Yehudi 1
Bayit Yehudi is splitting into at least in two factions. Deputy Mayor David Hadari, the outgoing chairman of the party, has ended his political career due to party leader MK Naftali Bennett’s strong opposition to reappointing him as head of the local party. The local branch voted for Dov Kalmanovich, who had been severely wounded in the first intifada, to stand at the head of the new list, which also includes Herzl Yehezkel, former president of the Har Homa neighborhood council and community center.
However, the local branch failed to adhere to one of the party’s regulations – to have a woman in at least the No. 3 position. Tamar Tennenbaum, the first woman in the party, is No. 4 on the list – not a realistic position according to some polls.
Education, security and observance of Shabbat are among the major issues this party, which now has three seats, has pledged to promote.
Bayit Yehudi 2
The official name of this party is United Jerusalem, but the members all belong to the same political family, until recently united under one roof. Shmuel Shkedi, who until a few months ago swore he would never go back into politics (after more than 20 years as deputy mayor, ending five years ago), has split from the national party. Rounding up a few friends who, like himself, are disappointed in Bennett’s choices, he joined forces with Arieh King, a rightwing activist who promotes Jewish settlement in the Old City and east Jerusalem. Shkedi and King have a woman on their list at No. 8.
Hitorerut is an unmistakable indicator of the “awakening” of a large part of the capital’s younger generation. The party was launched a few months before the 2008 elections as a last-ditch effort to convince young adults not to leave the city but to remain here and fight for a better future. But despite its best intentions, innovative messaging and clever use of gimmicks, the movement ended up with only one seat. Later, an ad hoc alliance with the Yerushalmim movement, which addressed the same issues to a slightly older audience, didn’t hold for more than a year and a half, and it split, leaving some bitterness in the air.
Ofer Berkovitch, one of the two leaders who forged the new path (with Meirav Cohen, who decided to quit politics), is trying to rally all the city’s young and talented (mostly students) around him and his team – which includes Hanan Rubin, a religious advocate and father of four – to continue the sweep of the young generation. Identified with free outdoor events and parties, Hitorerut is making a serious attempt to prove that it is relevant, even to those over 30.
Focused, dedicated to her mission and backed by a strong family, Rachel Azaria has proven that being a religious woman who does not belong to a political party is not only not an obstacle but can even be an advantage. Surrounded by a large group of young families and many Anglos focused on young families’ issues and needs – preschools, kindergartens, first grades, parks and the like – Azaria has become a beacon of change for the best for her constituency – young, educated religious and secular families. But she has also become a red flag for haredim and even many religious people from her own background.
Her list proposes a variety of people, such as Reform rabbinical student Tamir Nir, modern-Orthodox rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, new immigrant Fleur Hassan- Nahoum, and feminist and social activist from a peripheral neighborhood Tamar Brody.
Pisgat Ze’ev Al Hamapa
This party, “Pisgat Ze’ev Is On the Map,” is led by Yael Antebi, a member of the city council since 2008 and resident of Pisgat Ze’ev. Antebi tried hard to represent and promote her neighbors’ interests, especially in regard to traffic and transportation.
Pisgat Ze’ev has more than 40,000 residents, and while Antebi has never said openly that her neighborhood should disconnect itself from the city and become independent, she has worked to draw more attention to its needs.
This is the third party founded and led by a woman on the city council, and it has a woman at No. 4 as well. On the council, Antebi was part of Barkat’s coalition, and though she hasn’t officially expressed her support for the mayor, she hasn’t expressed support for Lion, either.
Antebi has not been involved in many issues not linked to her neighborhood, arguing that it was her mandate. Her claim was that neighborhoods on the seam lines (Pisgat Ze’ev is very close to Arab neighborhoods and the West Bank security fence) have special concerns that need to be represented.
Ometz Lev
The new party Ometz Lev (“Courage”) was created at the 11th hour (less than a month before the closure of the party lists) by the Central Elections Committee) by Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur. Motivated by her strong belief that she is the only person capable of properly handling the capital’s green issues, she decided – upon realizing that Barkat was not giving her a meaningful position on his list – to start her own independent journey.
Her list includes Edna Friedman, until recently No.
3 on the Bayit Yehudi list – who had become persona non grata in her party by refusing to cave in to male power – and several new faces in the local political arena. Tsur is the only party leader who made a point of having a woman of Ethiopian origin, Yaffa Sahelo, on her list and, for a short time, had an Arab and a haredi woman as well. The latter two had to quit following serious threats from their respective communities, but the message is clear: For the first time in Jerusalem’s modern political history, a party of women – and one man, Shlomo Goldman, at No. 5 – is taking a stand to seek public support.
Tsur’s main areas of interest, as deputy mayor and the years she spent at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, are the environment, recycling, the preservation of historic sites and other such issues essential for a sustainable city.
Yesh Am Ehad
Yesh Am Ehad (There Is One Nation) is a new local party led by Amos Madar. Next on the list are Yafit Sherer, Yosef Fadida, and Michael Laban. In Jerusalem was unable to obtain more information by press time.
Vatikei Vegimla’ei Yerushalayim
Avraham Touboul, retired from the municipality, leads a party (“The Veterans and Retirees of Jerusalem”) dedicated to representing the interests and needs of the city’s senior and retired residents. It is not part of the former national party that represented seniors in the Knesset but still concerns itself with the difficult conditions these groups face. Most of the party is comprised of former employees of the municipality, and there is a woman at No. 5.
Neighborhoods and Businesses
Ayoub Ofer and Shimon Deri established a local party to represent the interests of less privileged neighborhoods and small business owners. According to the founders, these people face many difficulties, such as municipal bureaucracy, taxes and lack of municipal support.