Ready and waiting

Running a haredi candidate has become a major issue in the sector – those who welcome the idea of a haredi mayor and those who warn that this could be disadvantageous for haredim in Jerusalem.

Deputy Mayor Haim Epstein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Deputy Mayor Haim Epstein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Deputy Mayor Yossi Daitch (United Torah Judaism) scored a significant victory last week by winning the approval and support of the secretariat of UTJ’s Agudat Yisrael for his candidacy in the October 30 mayoral election.
Now Daitch is seeking to leverage that approval into broader support of all of the factions in the haredi sector. Officially, the word of the parties in the haredi sector is that the “time is not ripe yet” for a public announcement of support, but sources disclose that the issue is larger than just a matter of timing.
Running a haredi candidate has become a major issue in the sector, arousing bad memories and concern from both sides – those who welcome the idea of a haredi mayor and those who warn that this could turn out to be disadvantageous for haredim in Jerusalem.
Those in favor of electing a haredi mayor argue that they should lead the city themselves to counter what they consider to be an ongoing erosion of the status quo in religious matters.
Their opponents warn that the days of a massive and united vote of the haredi residents are apparently over. There is already a split; Deputy Mayor Haim Epstein (Bnei Torah, representing the Jerusalem Faction) is already a haredi (but independent) candidate.
“Epstein is not likely to draw too many votes from the haredi side, but it is nevertheless an indication that things have seriously changed and that no haredi candidate is, apparently, going to sweep all of the haredi votes,” says a haredi source in the city council.
Moreover, according to the findings of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, fewer than 70% of the city’s haredi population can be counted on to vote.
While Epstein is running in order to advance the specific needs of his community in terms of things like synagogues and kindergartens, Daitch aims much higher. He wants to be “a legitimate candidate, to be judged by his acts for the whole city and not only his community,” as the source put it, “but considering the level of suspicion, if not actual hatred against the haredim, he has no chance to achieve his goal.”
Deputy Mayor Itzhak Pindrus (representing Lithuanians in the party) says that electing a haredi mayor actually “could end up delivering a terrible blow to our community and set us, the haredim, back more than 20 years in terms of our needs. Many of us believe it is wiser not to aspire to win the position of mayor and instead identify and support a non-haredi candidate who would take us and our needs – mostly housing and education – into consideration.” Based on the present atmosphere of polarization between haredim and pluralists, Pindrus fears that a haredi mayor could become a target – increasing the chance of failure and harming the sector.
Daitch is convinced that he has a chance to win and to be elected and he is working hard to convince the skeptics on his side that he is the right person at the right time. Meanwhile, others in his own party are busy trying to identify the non-haredi candidate who could best deliver the goods and spare them the risks of running their own candidate. For now, Jerusalem Affairs and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion are the front-runners in this regard, but nothing is decided yet and probably won’t be until after the High Holy Days.