Slogans, accusations — and positioning

Avi Salman, a businessman and former legal adviser in the inner circle of exiting Mayor Nir Barkat, was the first to launch his campaign.

A sign on a Jerusalem bus proclaims, ‘The Likud is strength.’ (photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
A sign on a Jerusalem bus proclaims, ‘The Likud is strength.’
(photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
‘Jerusalem Needs a Bulldozer.” “Rescuing Jerusalem.” “Jerusalem Strong and Powerful.” “Wake up Jerusalem.” “I Am Jerusalem.”
These are just some of the slogans issued so far by the nine candidates for mayor as we approach election D-Day. Not surprisingly, accusations and counter accusations have also begun to appear, adding, sadly, an amount of ugliness to the campaign.
Avi Salman, a businessman and former legal adviser in the inner circle of exiting Mayor Nir Barkat, was the first to launch his campaign, back in October 2017, with huge banners declaring his intention to become the next mayor. His first slogan was “Barkat out, Salman in” – boldly signaling that he was ready for the job. Salman upstaged the other candidates, who at that time were still far from being ready to go public.
Salman has focused his campaign on his plan to build about 100,000 housing units by using a new Interior Ministry regulation that allows adding affordable housing on existing structures for public use. The plan obtained the support of several Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research members, and Salman added it quickly to his banners and posters, presenting himself as the one who will build for young families and couples without endangering green open spaces, thereby reducing migration out of the city. While the lack of affordable housing is a major problem, Salman decided that it was time to highlight another social aspect to his campaign. He added to his list representatives of two sectors neglected by other candidates: Rabbi Josef Wasserman, president of the retired and pensioners’ association of the city, and Simha Benita, a veteran hero of struggles for improving the rights and the conditions of handicapped persons.
Salman was the only non-haredi candidate who declared publicly that he would not join the Gay Pride parade, and even added that once elected, he would do his utmost to cancel it, specifying also that he would rather invest in education than in events unfit for the holy character of the city. Last week, his headquarters was the target of arson. Salman accused members of the LGBT community and submitted a complaint to the police, including recordings of phone threats he received. Reaction to his accusation was swift. Laura Wharton, head of the Meretz Jerusalem branch and president of its list to the council, warned Salman that she would take him to court unless he withdrew that accusation. So far, he has refused.
One issue that Salman has not shed much light on how he is financing his campaign.
There are three “pluralist” candidates. Most of their supporters feel that the three should unite behind the candidate with the best chances to win, none of them has yet agreed to step down. While Ofer Berkovitch (Hitorerut) leads in most polls, Rachel Azaria and Yossi Havilio insist on continuing their own campaigns. Azaria says that many haredim support her. Contemplating his weakness in the polls, Havilio called on Berkovitch and Azaria to run an independent poll to decide. Recently, one of Havilio’s assistants admitted, on record, that they know that Havilio has no chance, and therefore the whole campaign is designed to win him a deputy mayor position.
Yet, for the moment, none of the three is making a move.
Moshe Lion is talking about the need for a “bulldozer.” If the haredim don’t run their own candidate, he feels he can win their support, although haredi sources say that if their candidate, Yossi Daitch, doesn’t run, they may consider supporting Ze’ev Elkin. Elkin’s appeal in haredi eyes is his pledge to build as much housing as possible for all sectors, with a special emphasis on building for haredim, to prevent, as he says, the ongoing and unwelcome haredi expansion into secular neighborhoods.
For residents and activists on the left side of the political map, Elkin’s slogan, “Making Jerusalem Strong,” indicates an intention to consolidate the religious communities, building mostly for the Jewish residents in the Arab neighborhoods on the eastern side and for the haredi sector. Indeed, Elkin was the prominent guest at the inauguration of the Center for Yemenite Jewish Heritage last week in the Silwan neighborhood – a step that raised some concern among many, as if he sees himself as a future mayor or an emissary of the government.
The key is in the hands of the haredim. For now, Daitch sounds confident in his chances to win the support of the Lithuanian community in the haredi sector and to become the candidate with the highest chance of being elected.
Only 75 days left; stay tuned.