Haredim turn out for Porush, but divisions diminish support

Ger hassidim throw support behind Barkat.

MK Meir Porush 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
MK Meir Porush 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Jerusalem's haredi sector was bustling with the democratic spirit on Tuesday, as droves from the modestly-clad community made their way to the polls and cast their votes in the city's municipal election. Seen as a solid bloc for haredi candidate Meir Porush, not only were the majority of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox enthusiastic about voting, some went as far as to call it a mitzva. "To vote for Porush, who keeps Shabbat and is a learned, religious man, that's a mitzva," said a yeshiva student in the capitol's Romema neighborhood. "He will protect Jerusalem and keep it holy. The others, I believe, will not." But others from the within the community's myriad sects and different branches begged to differ. Taking part in the elections at all, they said, was tantamount to condoning the secular state, and looked upon it with a sense of gravity. To that end, two separate scuffles broke out in the haredi neighborhoods during polling hours - one in the Beit Israel neighborhood and the other, on Yirmiyahu St., not far from the yeshiva student in Romema, who had expressed his support for the democratic process. In the first incident, dozens of haredim tried to prevent voters from entering the Beit Israel-area polling station, following disputes between members of different haredi sects. Police and Border Police officers were called to the scene and attempted to clear the entrance, when clashes broke out as the haredim began throwing stones at the security personnel. One officer was lightly wounded, when a rock hit him in the head, and he was taken to hospital for treatment. One of the stone-throwers, police said, was detained for questioning. Later, another altercation developed in the capital near a polling station on Yirmiyahu St., where earlier in the day a news photographer was almost beaten up by a group of ultra-Orthodox residents who threatened him after he began taking pictures. The incident that finally erupted there involved two separate groups of haredi residents - those who support the right the vote, and those who object to it. A civilian security guard who stepped in to break up the fight was lightly wounded and evacuated to the Shaare Zedek Hospital for treatment. Police were called to the scene and eventually dispersed the crowd. Meanwhile, other irregularities were reported at haredi polling stations on Tuesday, including an anonymous tip from a haredi woman, made to The Jerusalem Post's offices, in which she alleged that guards at a Mea Shearim polling station had been seen handing out double envelopes of each color to voters, effectively doubling the vote in support of Porush. While the woman abruptly hung up and gave no specific location of the incident, authorities were notified and were investigating the situation. In the capital's Bucharan Quarter, election flyers for Porush, Shas and Gaydamak littered the streets. Cars covered in Porush posters and flags drove by polling stations, honking their horns and yelling political slogans out of the window. At every polling station in the religious neighborhoods, Shas campaign workers - who were pushing for seats on the Jerusalem city council as well as supporting Porush - set up tables with various religious paraphernalia laid out across them. The Friday night candles blessing, Minha and Maariv prayer booklets and CDs, all with the Shas stamp on them, were given out for free to passers by. Meanwhile, a steady stream of haredi men, often accompanied by their wives, made their way into various polling stations throughout the different neighborhoods. Anyone predicting a low voter turnout in this sector got it wrong. At the Kedushat HaTorah Yeshiva near the Bucharan Quarter, a group of students milled around outside. "Of course we're going to vote," one of them, Avraham, said. "The head of the yeshiva came to us all this morning after prayers and told us to go out and vote. He didn't have to tell us for whom." Avraham explained that was quite normal at other yeshivas in the area, and that he thought Porush was relying on it. "He knows we're going to vote for him in big numbers," Avraham said. But in yet another odd twist to the haredi vote, the Ger Hassidim had made it clear that they were voting for Barkat, based on internal opposition to Porush. "On Monday night, dozens of Ger Hassidim came into the neighborhood and handed out flyers saying, 'Porush will close down the city in Shabbat, he'll make you dress modestly,'" said a Katamon resident on Tuesday. "It was a really strange tactic. They said they were voting for Barkat, and not to vote for Porush, then they left." However, on Tuesday night, voices from Ger showed that they might not be voting at all. "The rabbis told us not to vote for someone who violates the Sabbath," Meir, a Ger Hassid, told the Post on Tuesday evening. "So we didn't vote for the mayor. We just voted for city council and left the rest up to God."