Analysis: Haredi infighting helps Barkat capture J'lem

Porush's meddling in Betar mayoral vote got Ger's goat.

Haredim riot  224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Haredim riot 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Disunity and infighting within the normally cohesive haredi community helped Nir Barkat win out against Meir Porush in Jerusalem's mayoral race. In what haredi politicians and activists are calling a watershed event that shook up and may redefine haredi political leadership, the Ger Hassidic sect led an aggressive campaign against Jerusalem's only religious candidate. Ger even resorted to violence and incitement to discourage the haredi public from voting for Porush, according to Porush supporters. "They cut all the telephone lines in our campaign headquarters one day," said a Porush campaigner. "We did not want to publicize it because we did not want there to be a desecration of God's name." A religious Zionist pro-Porush activist said that Ger Hassidim had also tried to mislead voters by announcing that voting for Porush was against rabbinic opinion. "It was terrible that they disparaged a God-fearing man like that when the [alternative] was voting for someone who is not even religious," said the source, who added that all the leading religious Zionist rabbis had come out in support of Porush. Porush himself blamed his failure on Ger's campaign against him, without expressly mentioning the sect's name, in an interview with Ynet. Ger Hassidim joined forces with Boyan, Viznitz and Sanz sects to oppose Porush. The anti-Porush campaign spearheaded by Ger was basically an act of vengeance for his rebelling against the dominant political and rabbinic forces leading some 600,000 to 700,000 Israeli haredim. Porush's act of infidelity was his successful campaign last October to get Meir Rubinstein, a Breslav Hassid, elected mayor of the haredi Betar Illit. Ger Rebbe Ya'acov Aryeh Alter and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who between them respectively control the Hassidic and Lithuanian haredi communities in Israel, opposed Porush, as did the leader of Porush's own Boyan Hassidic sect. Nevertheless, in what was seen as an open rebellion against the Ashkenazi haredi political establishment's leadership, Porush, who received the backing of Shas, succeeded in ousting Betar's incumbent Yitzhak Pindrus. Porush's maverick tactics and his success at the Betar voting booth was the first major sign that Alter and Elyashiv were losing their hold on haredi political leadership. Pindrus said Wednesday during an interview on Radio Kol Hai, a haredi radio station, that haredi Jewry was facing turbulent times. "I am apprehensive about how this will play itself out," said Pindrus. "But the seeds of what we witnessed in Jerusalem were planted last year in Betar." There is a real fear in the haredi community that rabbinic authority in matters relating to political leadership is losing its hold on the masses. Porush is seen as the main instigator of this upheaval. However, by punishing Porush, Ger also helped prevent the haredi public from maintaining its hold on Jerusalem.•