Corridors of Power: Musical seats

Will Meir Porush, most likely the haredi candidate in the upcoming elections, be able to motivate his sector to vote?

MK Meir Porush 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
MK Meir Porush 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Last Thursday, local haredi rabbis and bigwigs gathered in Mea She'arim. The outcome of the meeting wasn't surprising: MK Meir Porush (or Porush Jr. as he is known in haredi circles) officially announced his intention to run for mayor of Jerusalem, while Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollack is headed for the Knesset. The final step is expected next week, when the institutions of United Torah Judaism will gather and give Porush's decision the kosher stamp of approval. At first glance, it appears to be a repeat scenario of five years ago, when Uri Lupolianski was officially declared the haredi mayoral candidate, destroying opposition leader Nir Barkat's dream of becoming mayor. Barkat had a vision and the finances to actualize it, but it turned out that the haredim, who make up 30 percent of Jerusalem's Jewish residents, turned up en masse to vote for the first haredi mayoral candidate. Only about 70 percent of haredim voted for Lupolianski, who enjoyed not insignificant support from some secular voters who held him in esteem due to his founding and continued involvement in the voluntary organization Yad Sarah. But Lupolianski's achievements do not seem to impress his constituency that much, to put it mildly, and those haredim who still wish to see one of their own at the helm would rather it be Porush or Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollack, while secular voters will be unlikely to vote for a haredi candidate this time around. "Lupolianski didn't bring us [haredim] jobs or any benefits,"a prominent haredi businessman said this week. Indeed, Lupolianski steered clear of cronyism, but that's expected to change with Porush. The thing is that Porush is still a long way from securing the mayoralty. According to more than one haredi businessman, Porush has too many enemies on the inside. His party, United Torah Judaism, is composed of Litvaks (Lithuanian haredim) and hassidim. Porush recently broke with the Hassidim, specifically the Boyans over the elections in Betar Illit earlier this year. "These people are known to be vindictive," says a member of his party. "They will probably drag after them more hassidic sects, and that's a lot of voters. "To top it off, Porush doesn't enjoy the kind of sympathy that Lupolianski had five years ago from the general public," he adds. "In any case, this time we already know that our [haredi] public will not unite behind our candidate. "The only thing that could save Porush is the usual mistake by the secular public: to field more than one candidate. As far as I can see, I think Porush can rely on the secular Jerusalemites [to do so]; we have already heard of three different candidates." But according to UTJ city councilors, the rabbis are ambivalent about presenting a haredi candidate once again: Not only did Lupolianski's term produce unsatisfactory results for the haredi community, but a candidate like Porush or Pollack could jump-start secular residents, who might feel threatened enough to go out and vote. Meanwhile, it seems that Porush will not run as the United Torah Judaism representative, but at the head of a list not sponsored by one of the major parties. Not only will this allow him to keep his seat at the Knesset in case he isn't elected, it shows that expectations for success are prudent. In any case, Pollack has made it clear that he is still interested in the job if his patron gets cold feet. The only problem left is who will replace Deputy Mayor Yigal Amedi. Amedi, who is close to Arkadi Gaydamak, no longer sounds like a realistic mayoral candidate. But whether Porush or Pollack runs for mayor, the candidate will desperately need a non-haredi deputy - otherwise, who will represent the mayor at cultural events that might include, God forbid, women singing? In the meantime tension is building in Shas's chambers at the municipality. Officially, the final list will be decided by spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Unofficially, the two high ranks - Deputy Mayor Eli Simhayof and Shlomo Atias - will stay on, probably with the same tense relationship between them. But on one issue the two are in agreement. "There will, of course, be only one haredi candidate and Shas will back him, but we have our conditions, we have the strength to demand more achievements for our [haredi] public," says Simhayof. And on the non-haredi front? Everything is the same as before: one official candidate (Barkat), surrounded by at least three unofficial contenders: Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who would not answer In Jerusalem's questions about his intentions, Gaydamak, who, according to his right-hand man Amedi, is more serious than ever about his candidacy, and recently even Meretz's head at city council, Pepe Alalu. Pollack's take on the matter? "If the secular residents of Jerusalem cannot gather behind one candidate as we [haredim] can, then there is no doubt the next mayor will be Meir Porush, despite the divisions among us," he says.