Hassidic groups remain undecided on Lion despite endorsement of leading non-hassidic rabbis

Likud-Beytenu’s mayoral candidate in Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, has yet to secure ultra-religious vote.

Moshe Lion 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Lion campaign)
Moshe Lion 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Moshe Lion campaign)
Despite support from senior non-hassidic haredi rabbis for Likud-Beytenu’s mayoral candidate in Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, several ultra-Orthodox factions are seriously considering not voting for him, or quietly backing incumbent mayor Nir Barkat.
Sources in some of the haredi political factions told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that some groups, especially the hassidic dynasties, had serious reservations about Lion and were also worried about the political ramifications if they back the wrong horse.
Earlier this week, haredi news site Kooker claimed that the Belz Hassidic community in Jerusalem would not be voting for Lion and would leave their voting slips blank instead.
A source in the hassidic Agudat Yisrael told the Post that the report “had foundation.” Avrimi Kroizer, Barkat’s adviser for haredi issues, told the Post that the campaign team was “in dialogue with many haredi groups” although he would not be drawn on specifics.
Kroizer said, however, that different hassidic communities, as well as non-hassidic factions, do not view Lion’s chances favorably and are therefore loathe to antagonize Barkat by backing his rival, arguing in addition that Barkat had worked well with the haredim during his first term.
Agudat Yisrael in particular, the hassidic party of the national United Torah Judaism list, is being extremely cautious with regards to its ultimate endorsement of a mayoral candidate.
Although Lion has met with and gained the support of the most senior non-hassidic haredi rabbis, he has not yet met with the Admorim, or grand rabbis, of any of the main hassidic dynasties.
And on Monday, a meeting was held between Degel Hatorah MKs and Lion without the four MKs for Agudat Yisrael.
Another group who will seemingly not be voting for Lion is Bnei Torah, the rebel non-hassidic haredi faction which has broken with the political and rabbinic leadership of the mainstream community.
Bnei Torah is running its own candidate for mayor, Haim Epstein, and the party insists he will be not be dropping out of the race.
Yishaiyahu Wein, a senior figure in Bnei Torah, added emphatically that there was “no chance whatsoever” that the party would back Lion.
Wein claimed that Lion’s campaign was the initiative of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who Wein accused of “fighting a war against Judaism.”
“This is a reason by itself not to support Lion,” said Wein.
Kroizer said that Bnei Torah could muster as many as 12,000 votes in the elections, for Epstein and the party list for the municipal council.
According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, there are just over 90,000 haredim living in Jerusalem over the age of 20 and out of a Jewish population of just over 500,000 (exact numbers of those of voting age are not available).
Wein added that Bnei Torah were “in cooperation” with Agudat Yisrael.
Speaking with the Post, another source within Agudat Yisrael said that “some of the hassidic groups have already come to an agreement with Barkat,” but declined to say which ones.
The Agudat official said that the party’s MKs had skipped the meeting with Lion because it had not yet decided on who to back.
According to the source, deliberations are ongoing and the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael will shortly convene to rule on the issue.
He said, however, that there is a chance that there will not be a united decision regarding endorsing any particular mayoral candidate.
The official noted in particular recent polls giving Barkat a large lead over Lion among decided voters. The Ma’agar Mohot poll showed 44 percent support for Barkat against 13 for Lion, although 43 percent of respondents said they were still undecided.
A large proportion of those undecided are likely haredim who will wait for the official announcements of the rabbis before deciding who to vote for.
The source said that there was a concern that by backing Lion the haredim could endanger their relationship with Barkat and that if polls indicated he would win anyway, this would not be a politically astute move.
He also echoed Wein’s criticism of Liberman for being an architect of the current legislation to draft haredim into the army, as well as being part of the current government which has cut various government welfare stipends and benefits which have had a significant impact on haredi households.
A source from Lion’s campaign said in response: “Nir Barkat’s campaign is playing a double game with the Jerusalem public just as they did in the last elections.
On the one hand they are publicly claiming that their candidate is the secular champion by sewing fear against the haredim, while privately behind closed doors he is making deals and agreements with haredi representatives. This is how Barkat won the last elections but we hope the Jerusalem public will see through this well-funded propaganda and spin.”