National Religious voters split between Barkat and Porush

The fight for the national religious vote in Jerusalem's mayoral race was keenly felt on Tuesday, as voters in the capital's modern Orthodox neighborhoods arrived at polling stations. Sources from the campaigns of both front-runners - secular businessman Nir Barkat and ultra-Orthodox MK Meir Porush - have said the sector's vote could decide the race, and both sides have campaigned accordingly. On Tuesday, voters in Zionist Orthodox neighborhoods seemed split down the middle on which candidate to vote for and why. While many said they opposed the "haredization" of the capitol - the sharp increase in ultra-Orthodox influence and population - and were voting for Barkat, others said their rabbis, the majority of whom endorsed Porush, had swayed them. Porush's campaign zeroed in on neighborhoods such as Kiryat Moshe, Katamon and Baka on Tuesday, intensifying their attacks on Barkat and passing out flyers that tied him to Peace Now, the Oslo Accords and the Gaza disengagement of 2005 - all issues designed to sour support Barkat might have enjoyed in a community that often sees itself as a stark contrast to its ultra-Orthodox counterparts, but is also right of center when it comes to national security and negotiations with the Palestinians. Others said they didn't need flyers to make up their minds. "I think that Barkat's unclear background will hurt him," said Yoni Weiss as he walked out of a polling station in Kiryat Moshe. "It's certainly influencing people here. But I think the thing that influences people more than that is what their rabbis say, and that's bad for Barkat." In a grocery store nearby, the owner said most people he had spoken with were voting for Barkat. "People are tired of the city becoming ultra-Orthodox," he said. "They think that Porush will be more of the same, possibly even worse. I don't think they're necessarily voting for Barkat, they're voting against Porush," he said with a smile. Still, the issue of the rabbinic support lingered in Kiryat Moshe - a neighborhood known for its strong ties to the local national religious yeshivas, including the flagship Mercaz Harav yeshiva, where a terrorist shot eight students dead last March. One young woman, Avital, who arrived to cast her vote, was clear that the flyers and "smear attacks" on behalf of the Porush campaign hadn't affected her vote. "Those types of things don't influence me," she said. "What influences me is my rabbi, who's supporting Porush, and I think [my rabbi] knows better than I do as far as politics are concerned." In Katamon, Barkat seemed to have more support, but by no means a decisive advantage. Considered less of a "yeshivish" community than Kiryat Moshe, Katamon's younger and more liberal-leaning voices seemed supportive of Barkat, and nervous about the changes the ultra-Orthodox Porush might make to the city. "I voted for Barkat, because I don't want Porush," said a young man wearing a crocheted kippa, as he stood outside an area polling station. "It's as simple as that. People always vote against something, not for it. I guess it's better to say that I didn't vote for Barkat, I voted against Porush." Others said it was a toss-up. "I've spoken with national religious voters all day," said a National Union campaign worker who was passing out flyers at the entrance to a polling station in Baka. "A lot of them are voting Barkat, but others are voting Porush. To each his own," he said, with a grin. "As long as for city council, they're voting for us."