Jerusalem's secular-traditionalists unite for anti-haredi electoral list

Under the slogan “Hope returns to Jerusalem – and it depends on you!” the new faction wants to convince the Jerusalemites to support efforts to preserve Jerusalem from the haredi sector.

 UNITED OPPOSITION: (L TO R) Laura Wharton, Yossi Havilio, Yaala Bitton-De Langa, Eran Ben Yehuda. (photo credit: RAFY KUTZ)
UNITED OPPOSITION: (L TO R) Laura Wharton, Yossi Havilio, Yaala Bitton-De Langa, Eran Ben Yehuda.
(photo credit: RAFY KUTZ)

It took hours of behind-the-scenes talks, hesitations, public and partially secret meetings, and a modest but assertive social media campaign by councilwoman Laura Wharton. However, late last week the two most prominent outgoing city council representatives of the secular-traditional-Zionist public found a way to put aside their egos and join forces. The agreement for a joint run by Yossi Havilio and Laura Wharton paved the way for the joining of additional forces as representatives of the National Unity Party and the Labor movement in the Jerusalem district.

Jerusalem area Labor Party representative Eran Ben Yehuda and Yesh Atid’s Yael Bitton de Langa united with Jerusalem Demokratit’s Wharton and Saving Jerusalem’s Yossi Havilio and formed The Jerusalem Union, a front that represents everyone.

Under the slogan “Hope returns to Jerusalem – and it depends on you!” the new faction wants to convince the Jerusalemites who are neither ultra-Orthodox nor National-Religious to support the initiative to preserve Jerusalem from losing ground to the majority haredi sector, and to convey the message that there is a place in the city for those who define themselves as secular, or traditional, or even religious-and-liberal.

For many of the thousands of Jerusalemites who have decided to leave the city over the past year, this may sound a bit naive, a utopia that has passed its time; but for these four local politicians, and a few more in different factions, this is more of a moral obligation.

In Havilio’s words, “It is our duty to save Jerusalem.” He and his partners in this new alliance point out that their aim is to represent the non-haredi sector and preserve its rights, not to run an anti-campaign against haredi residents. However, considering the tense atmosphere in the country, that is far from guaranteed. 

 An Israeli municipal elections voting box. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
An Israeli municipal elections voting box. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

A viable liberal and egalitarian faction in the Jerusalem elections?

So is there a chance in 2023 for a liberal, egalitarian, viable, and strong faction to represent this sector on the city council after the October 31 elections? It is too early to say, but Jerusalem has always been capable of surprises. In 2008, just when it seemed that nothing would stop the ultra-Orthodox sector from acting according to its own ethos (after Yehoshua Pollak, the mighty deputy mayor under haredi mayor Uri Lupoliansky, ordered 13-year-old girls to wrap themselves in sacks to be allowed to dance in public at the String Bridge inauguration ceremony), just a few weeks later, they lost the city to Nir Barkat and the liberal voters. Maybe we’ll see a repeat.

Neither Havilio nor Wharton uses anti-Orthodox rhetoric, and they always emphasize that they have no intention of harming the rights of the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem. This can be evidenced by the generally good relations between them and the ultra-Orthodox council members. 

But at the end of the day, when 17 seats on the council (which has a total of 30 seats plus one for the mayor) are in the hands of the haredi parties Degel HaTorah, Agudat Yisrael, and Shas, even a completely secular mayor cannot act freely. And the current mayor, it must be remembered, is a member of the National-Religious camp and depends to a significant extent on his haredi coalition members. 

Moshe Lion is running for a second term but also for at least four seats on the council – to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing situation he encountered in 2018 when he was elected mayor but had zero council representation. 

Lion has kept out of the spotlight while doing the legwork to put together an attractive list that would not annoy his ultra-Orthodox partners and also convey that he seriously intends to be the “mayor for all” (ultra-Orthodox, religious, and secular). 

He is also being careful about another issue and has announced that his list would consist of 50% women and 50% men, and he has succeeded in the task. Ronit Akhdot Hodjiev HaCohen is number one on the list, followed by Ofer Ayoubi; Tali Friedman, chairperson of the Mahaneh Yehuda Merchants’ Association; and Amit Peretz, a 31-year-old Jerusalem resident born in Tiberias. 

Peretz spent ages seven to 14 in New York but became a true Jerusalemite in 2009, upon his release from the IDF. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and international relations from the Hebrew University and began to get involved in community initiatives aimed at keeping young people in Jerusalem. 

Friedman, the only woman so far able to manage the board of market merchants at Mahaneh Yehuda and remain on good terms with the municipality – an impressive achievement in itself – joined after much hesitation.

For now, it is still not clear if the Ashkenazi  ultra-Orthodox parties Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel will eventually run together or separately as in the 2028 elections. The final decision will be made before Rosh Hashanah, as the deadline to present lists is September 15. 

Yael Antebi is still running solo at the head of a local list representing Pisgat Ze’ev residents, some 45,000 people. However, sources close to her say that in parallel, talks are being held with other groups, including the Likud in Jerusalem, but nothing has been yet decided. 

The religious party Noam will be represented by Aryeh King’s list, United for Jerusalem, but so far it is not clear who and how the Religious Zionist sector, which split in 2018, will be represented on the city council. 

Hitorerut is slated to hold elections next week for its list, with Adir Schwartz at the head. 

Fifty-six days to the elections. Stay tuned.