Jerusalem elections: A look at the candidates and what they want

As the deadline to submit candidacy approaches, we take a close look at who’s who in the Jerusalem municipal elections.

 SEAT OF municipal power in Jerusalem: Safra Square. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
SEAT OF municipal power in Jerusalem: Safra Square.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

D-Day for Jerusalem municipal elections is getting closer, and it’s time to make some preliminary order. As of this writing, there are three candidates for mayor: Moshe Lion, who is running for a second term; Yosi Havilio, who decided on September 10 to run for the position, in addition to leading a united party list; and Waleed Abu Tayeh, an independent candidate from east Jerusalem.

The deadline to submit one’s candidacy – for mayor and for the city council – is September 20.

Who are the candidates for the city council? 

  • On Sunday, September 10, Moshe Lion presented his list, One Jerusalem. It is a gender-equal list, with three women in the top five places – a first in the capital. 
  • Yosi Havilio and Laura Wharton’s united list was first joined by a representative of Yesh Atid and a representative of Labor, followed earlier this week, by a representative of A New Contract (a list of protest leaders in Jerusalem, led by Tomer Mintz).
  • Hitorerut, the veteran local list was established 15 years ago. It brought to the council a group of young people who represented a variety of communities in Jerusalem, with an emphasis on the young generation. It made history in the municipality by attaining seven seats on the council in the last election.
  • Yael Antebi traditionally runs as a representative of Pisgat Ze’ev. Starting this week, he will represent the Likud on the city council.
  • Shas, Degel HaTorah, Agudat Israel, and Bnei Torah are waiting for their respective councils of sages – the rabbis who decide who will run on the lists and who will be at the head of them – to make a decision. Traditionally, these choices are made right before the last date for submission. This year, sources estimate that the lists will be compiled near Rosh Hashanah or immediately after the holiday.
  • A candidate who refuses to reveal the people on his list for the time being is Deputy Mayor Arieh King, who is only willing to state that he will run at the head of a list called United with Arieh King.
  • Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe, who holds the Education portfolio, heads the religious list at Safra Square, under the title A National Religious Party – Religious Zionism Led by Hagit Moshe. Not all the names of the candidates can be published yet, but there are two women in the top five. Among the other candidates are Yehuda Freudiger, who is currently a council member; Tsachi Namir, vice president of Mobileye; and Rabbi Haim (Ian) Pear, spiritual head of the Shir Hadash community.

 ARIEH KING: Emphasis on strengthening city’s Jewish majority. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
ARIEH KING: Emphasis on strengthening city’s Jewish majority. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

What is their plan?

Arieh King

Deputy Mayor King is promoting a plan in which Jerusalem remains united under any condition and in any situation.

King’s plan is to keep “Jerusalem united, without compromise on tyranny and rule in all regions of the city and parts of the city.” King also says he will take care of strengthening the Jewish majority in the city, to maintain the sanctity of Jerusalem and its identity as the capital of the Jewish people – meaning he is totally opposed to any initiative for the secular residents, such as the Shabbat bus launched by Hitorerut.

All this, while maintaining the quality and raising the standard of living, maintaining the quality of the environment, and putting residents first among all stakeholders in the city.

Yossi Havilio

Havilio, who until now was head of the Saving Jerusalem list, will lead, along with veteran council member and Democratic Jerusalem list leader Laura Wharton, a joint faction, joined by representatives of the Yesh Atid and Labor parties.

At the beginning of the week, it was reported that another group is joining this union – Tomer Mintz with the A New Contract list, as well as a group of protest leaders in Jerusalem.

A New Contract is a grassroots movement that grew out of the current nationwide protests. It aims to create a new contract between the individual and the community, between the community and the state, and between the individual and the state.

The movement is working to establish and assist protest lists all over the country. The lists are being established to ensure liberal life in every city.

Members of Havilio’s list are co-leader city administration member Laura Wharton, chair of Democratic Jerusalem; Ya’ela Bitton de Langa, on behalf of Yesh Atid; and Eran Ben-Yehuda from the Labor Party.

At the moment, the united list led by Havilio is the largest representation of the pluralistic public in these elections. The union between Havilio and Wharton was not simple, even if it was perceived by a large part of the non-Orthodox public in the city as desirable. Ego and arguments about transportation caused this union to be rejected again and again, but in the end the formula was found and the united group arose under the name The Jerusalem Union.

“I will take this city away from deterioration into the abyss of chronic poverty, extremism, bigotry, and racism... It’s time for the... liberal majority in the city to return forever. For Jerusalem and for the State of Israel,” said Havilio upon revealing the list and his decision to also run for mayor, pointing out that he will run at the head of the broadest coalition for the mayorship of Jerusalem.

Havilio added, “In the coalition led by me, [right-wing Noam Party leader] Avi Maoz will see Jerusalem through binoculars. We will protect our neighborhoods from distress and from deterioration, and I will do what [Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel] Smotrich, [UTJ head Yitzhak] Goldknopf, and [Shas leader Arye] Deri are not allowing Lion to do – I will make a U-turn from the poor, extreme, and non-Zionist direction in which the city is moving.

“We put our egos aside and established the Jerusalem Union to prevent the waste of Zionist and liberal votes, and to return the moderate and decent majority to the city council.

“But it is not enough. For 30 years, the elected mayors have insisted on basing their coalition on the local versions of Avi Maoz, [Otzma Yehudit head Itamar] Ben-Gvir, and Goldknopf. I pledge that after I am elected mayor, I will form a coalition that will be based first and foremost on the liberal factions.”

What is Havilio’s plan?

His plan includes increasing the independence of the neighborhoods – through his “constitution for every neighborhood” plan and making the community administrations economically independent and independent of municipal politics. This is, in fact, returning to the initial vision of the founder of the community administrations, mayor Teddy Kollek, who believed that the management of the neighborhoods should be decentralized as much as possible.

In recent years, under all the mayors who followed Kollek – Ehud Olmert, through Uri Lupolianski and Nir Barkat – the independence of the community administrations was reduced to the point of being abolished, and they are now completely dependent on the municipality and its leader.

He is also planning to cancel the automatic property tax deductions for homes where there is unemployment by choice – aimed directly at the haredi sector. State and state-religious educational institutions will not be closed, even in the event of a drop in enrollment. At the same time, only educational institutions that teach core studies will be opened in non-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Havilio also promises to increase the pace of work on the light rail so that within a decade, there will be a light rail in every neighborhood.

In addition, new construction will not be approved on green areas or heritage, nature, and landscape sites.

What is missing? 

Havilio hasn’t said a word about the increasing number of high-rise buildings approved for construction, which the current mayor is promoting in all parts of the city, despite the growing opposition of large sectors of the city’s residents.

Havilio was born in 1959 in the Rassco neighborhood in Jerusalem and was educated at the Hebrew Gymnasium school. All his children live in the city as well. In 2010, Havilio was granted the Knight of the Quality of Government Award for his fight for proper administration and the rule of law.

Waleed Abu Tayeh

Waleed Abu Tayeh, candidate for mayor of Jerusalem with his list Our al-Quds, says that he wants to put an end to the Arab boycott on participation in the political processes in the country.

“In this oppressive era, there is no law and no justice. There is political, economic, demographic, electoral power, and power of self-interests,” says Abu Tayeh, a lawyer and accountant born in Nazareth who has been living in Jerusalem (Beit Safafa) for the past 44 years.

“The people of Jerusalem have an electoral power stronger than the military power to liberate Jerusalem from the occupation. Our electoral power is 40% of those who have the right to vote. They occupy our land, we can occupy their municipality and change the balance of power in Israel and the Middle East,” is his message to his potential voters in east Jerusalem.


The pluralist Hitorerut movement earlier this week revealed its team for municipal council elections. Chairman Adir Schwartz called on Havilio to join them and form a bloc to challenge King. The team includes 12 Jerusalemites – young, secular, religious, with diverse opinions but have a common goal of strengthening Jerusalem’s moderate liberal faction.

Schwartz: “For the past few weeks, we have been debating whether to [select a candidate to] run for mayor. In light of all the findings, including a comprehensive survey that examines the feasibility of running, we realized that such an act is irresponsible towards the city of Jerusalem.

“We set ourselves only one goal – to increase the liberal bloc on the city council and denounce the extremist forces that threaten the lives of the liberal public in the city.”

Schwartz also condemned oft-repeated statements by Deputy Mayor King. “He [King] announces in a loud and clear voice that he does not want LGBT people in the city, he does not want restaurants open on Shabbat, and he will do everything so that the pool at Har Homa does not open on Shabbat. And that is what we are fighting for in the upcoming elections.

“I call on my colleague Yossi Havilio to join me and declare that he will not give a hand to the coalition in which King sits. That’s the only way we’ll be able to keep the liberal and moderate public in Jerusalem.”

According to Schwartz, there are growing accusations against council member King due to his being a representative of the more extreme movements of Religious Zionism. King is currently connected to the Noam movement, which is associated with the Har Hamor Yeshiva and its rabbi, Zvi Tau.

The concern among the pluralist groups is King’s positions regarding the Arab population in the city and in his messages against the liberal Jewish community, which includes the prevention of opening entertainment sites on Shabbat, as well as the prevention of any attempt to operate public transportation on Shabbat in the city.

Meanwhile, an embarrassing incident occurred last week among a group of Hitorerut supporters. In the list’s WhatsApp group, an activist was removed after he called Likud MK Dan Illouz (a former member of Hitorerut) a “Nazi.” Another activist added: “Keep arguing about how much of a Nazi Dan is, but don’t be surprised later that there are no right-wingers in the movement and that it is perceived as left-wing.”

Hitorerut’s immediate reaction was: “There will be no room for extreme reactions.” But the incident is still clouding the feeling among the list’s supporters.

The list includes movement chairman Adir Schwartz, the youngest candidate ever in the city, age 29; traffic inspector Miriam Sela; Ariel Baziz, representative of the National Union Party; council member Ya’ara Shiloh; Noa Shalom, from National Unity; Inga Gal Madorsky; Rabbi Yair Faran; Moriah Rodel Sylfan; and Avi ben Zeno.

Since its creation, Hitorerut has been leading a fight for the younger generation and promoting programs that keep young people in the city after they graduate. The main issues are mainly decent employment and affordable housing.

Malka Greenblatt

Perhaps the most intriguing and interesting candidate is 34-year-old Malka Greenblatt, a haredi woman born and raised in Chicago, who made aliyah 10 years ago. If she and her chairman, Avishai Cohen, are successful, she will make history by becoming the first haredi woman on the city council.

She intends to represent the working ultra-Orthodox, also called the “new haredim.” Although she is well aware of the strong pressures that will immediately follow her announcement, she doesn’t seem to be too concerned about them.

There have been several attempts by haredi women or activists on behalf of women’s rights in the haredi sector to reach Safra Square, but so far all have failed due to pressure and even threats from their community.

Cohen was a member of Hitorerut who did not find his place in the faction and felt that there was no place for an ultra-Orthodox young man who chose a path of religious studies and work.

Cohen believed that Hitorerut would have adequate representation for the Working Orthodox list for someone like him. However, in an attempt to garner votes from secular residents, the decision to run buses on Shabbat, a step that clearly opposed the religious sector, changed his mind.

He strongly condemns vandalism and says that most of the haredi public is fed up with the behavior of small extreme factions that do not represent the general public. He initiated on-call neighborhood groups to stop the phenomenon, in cooperation with the Israel Police. Cohen, 40, is married and a father of two, served in the IDF in the prestigious 8200 Unit, and is currently managing the ultra-Orthodox sector at Brinks.

Cohen founded an independent faction called Jerusalem United and offered Greenblatt second place in the movement. Greenblatt and Cohen represent those among haredim who want to have a good standard of living and work for their livelihood.

Greenblatt owns a wig shop, and her husband owns two restaurants. According to her, there are growing numbers of haredim who want change, including ultra-Orthodox women who want representation. Greenblatt recalls the results of the last elections for the local council administrations, when haredi women were elected on the recommendation of rabbis, and says change is possible.

Hagit Moshe

Religious-Zionist leader Hagit Moshe’s program aims at connecting the opposite ends: “We offer a Jerusalem list that consists of women and men, young and older, who want to work for the public that sends them to the city council. My main goal is not to be dragged behind agendas that lead us into the realms of extremism and do not really serve the public.”

In the 2018 elections, 20,000 votes were wasted on lists that did not pass the threshold and would have accounted for at least four seats on the city council. ❖