Municipal Elections: The long and winding road

A look behind the scenes into the political life of Jerusalem.

YOSSI DAITCH (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tuesday night could win the legendary title of “A Hard’s Day Night” in the ongoing saga of the municipal elections campaign. At 12 midnight, the members of the Agudat Israel Council met in a small apartment in Geula to decide about the request of deputy mayor Yossi Daitch (Slonim Hassidic) to allow him to run for mayor.
For Daitch, it was the peak of a long and tortuous path, since he had announced – unofficially until then – his intention to run for the position. The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news sites broadcast the meeting live – an unprecedented case – with Daitch’s emotional speech in front of the 10 members of the council, trying to convince them that the time was ripe for another haredi mayor for Jerusalem. And to top it all off, that he is the best person to conduct this endeavor.
The word inside the haredi sector for the last decade has been that after Uri Lupolianski (2003-8), there was no place for a haredi mayor, and that the major aim of this society would be to check carefully who, among the candidates, would best serve the haredi sector’s interests and to support him.
But, as almost everything is changing now in haredi society, this idea has been seriously shaken, and the desire to “take care of our own business” – as expressed by one of Daitch’s closest assistants – finally won them over.
Tuesday’s victory is just the first part of Daitch’s mission.
Now, he must convince the Litvak (Lithuanian) sector of the United Torah Judaism party to support him too. This is not going to be an easy task – as they have their own candidate, deputy mayor Itzhak Pindrus – who is also eager to reach the position.
However, this dramatic move inside the haredi sector will probably have a deep impact on another candidate – Moshe Lion, who until now, was the unofficial emissary for the haredi sector, and who has lost, in just a few minutes, the crucial support of the haredi sector.
Not that the support for Lion was a settled issue among the haredim – his close acquaintance with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has always been a red flag in the eyes of the haredim. But, there is an understanding that if elected, he would not deprive this sector of their needs.
“The Agudat Israel Council decision means that haredim in Jerusalem are no longer ready to depend on the goodwill of a non-haredi [mayor] anymore,” said an assistant to Daitch. “They understand that now they are 39% of the Jewish population of Jerusalem, they don’t need anyone’s help.”
In politics, nothing happens by chance and every step is cautiously prepared and planned. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin – one of the leading candidates in these elections – failed, until Tuesday, to obtain the public support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Elkin repeated that he has that support, but until now there was no official declaration, and that created some concern among his local supporters.
And then, about an hour before the decision of the Agudat Israel Council, the long-expected declaration came and Elkin could wave Netanyahu’s words of full support. However, no financial support from the Likud has been allocated to Elkin so far.
As for the pluralist candidates, Ofer Berkovitch also launched – immediately after Daitch’s triumph – a call to all the candidates to join him and form a bloc to ensure that Jerusalem does not have a haredi mayor. So far, there is no sign that Yossi Havilio, MK Rachel Azaria or Avi Salman are seriously considering quitting the race or joining forces.
Ninety-eight days to D-Day. Stay tuned.