Election turmoil, but little change?

One month before the municipal elections, the picture is getting clearer, but not necessarily nicer.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
One month before the municipal elections, the picture is getting clearer, but not necessarily nicer. When the game is over on the morning following the elections, all this turmoil will fade, and the newly elected council will probably look very much like the existing one: one mayor, a large coalition and a tiny opposition (though that last is less likely).
What will remain for many to swallow is the degree of frustration stemming from the fact that once again, as has happened in so many previous elections, the so-called “pluralistic” public hasn’t been capable of presenting a unified front.
The non-haredi Jewish sector has too many lists representing it, the Arab sector is traditionally not represented, and the haredim, who constitute about 40 percent of the city’s Jewish population, have two strong lists (and apparently a third, small one representing the new stream of haredim who work to earn a living) that will, according to all forecasts, ensure them at least 13 or 14 of the council’s 30 seats.
This situation will prevent the mayor, no matter who ends up winning the elections, from disregarding the needs and requests – and we should all be grateful for that, as a city cannot be led other than by responding equally to all sectors’ needs.
However, the impression that one gets from having a single bloc account for almost half the seats on the city council is not a pleasant one, and in many ways, that impression is what lies behind much of the noless- unpleasant attitude that non-haredim express toward the ultra-Orthodox sector and its representatives.
During the campaign for these elections, there have been many attempts to organize a united non-haredi council list that would represent most of what politicians call the “Zionist” sector in the city, but all of them have failed. (The use of the term “Zionist” in this case refers to the group of religious and secular people who contribute to the state by working as well as studying – a group occasionally known as the “productive sector.”) This sector would include Meretz, Labor and part of the Likud, as well as a few local groups like Yerushalmim, Hitorerut, and Mayor Nir Barkat’s list, Jerusalem Will Succeed.
“I fail to see what really differentiates these groups from one another,” a high-ranking employee at the municipality, who has witnessed no fewer than six electoral campaigns in the city, said this week. “They all want the same: more job opportunities, better education, affordable housing and clean streets.”
The employee implied that the numerous splits in these groups waste voters’ time and energy, as they, too, find it difficult to figure out what makes each group distinctive.
A quick look behind the scenes might give us a better picture of the reality on the ground, although it is not a bright one: Conflicts, intrigues, ego issues and an inability to make room for the other are some of the terms that come to mind.
The situation came to a head a week ago Monday when electoral commission president Judge Salim Joubran ordered Hitorerut to stop its series of evening sing-alongs, which he deemed a violation of the elections law. Joubran issued the ruling in response to an appeal by Pepe Alalu, leader of the Meretz-Labor-Greens list, who felt that such activity might steal voices from his own list.
That was not the first round of belligerence between Meretz and Hitorerut. A week earlier, the two parties fought over the support (real or wished) of legendary former mayor Teddy Kollek’s children, with both sides insisting that Kollek’s son and daughter had enthroned them as their father’s true heir.
Considering that Jerusalem has the highest rate of young people voting – meaning that a large number of today’s voters had not even been born when Kollek left the post in 1993 – the dispute over this not-so-democratically-kosher point sounds strange, to say the least. And yet the two sides actually fought over it for days.
Meanwhile, campaign brochures by all sides have flung false accusations at all other sides, along with disdain and attempts to downplay competitors’ achievements.
And on top of all this, Alalu couldn’t refrain from taking the popular support he enjoyed one step too far: On Monday, September 16, the Meretz leader (whose power, according to some internal unpublished polls, is dropping) presented his candidacy for mayor of the city.
Considering that a large part of the non-haredi sector already sees Barkat’s challenger, Moshe Lion, as jeopardizing the incumbent mayor’s chances of winning, most of the lists do not welcome Allalu’s move, which splits the vote even further.