280,000 J'lem residents to be excluded from local vote

Only ‘activists’ allowed to vote in 6 J’lem elections; clause for November local council vote prevents empowerment of haredi, Hamas elements.

beit hanina 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
beit hanina 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Fourteen neighborhoods will elect local councils on November 20 as part of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s much-touted program to increase community involvement, but more than 280,000 residents will be excluded from the vote.
Six local councils will be elected under a new clause that requires voters to submit proof they have been active in community life for at least a year and have 50 signatures from residents supporting their effort to be classified as a “community activist.”
The complicated Clause 5.8 is a result of the fear that haredi or Hamas factions could overrun the local councils and start influencing city politics.
In neighborhoods that have mixed haredi and non-haredi populations, the worry is that the ultra-Orthodox are better organized than non-haredi residents and therefore will mobilize their vote much more efficiently.
In Arab neighborhoods, the city fears a repeat of last year’s elections in the Beit Hanina neighborhood. The municipality canceled the election there at the last minute after it received word that Hamas activists were organizing an effort to take over the local council.
Each community council is made up of nine elected members and six appointed members, and deals with local issues such as cultural events, education and ensuring that the municipality delivers services. The council seats are volunteer positions and are separate from the professional staff at the Matnas community centers.
Voter turnout for local council elections is very low – averaging last year around 17 percent This is partly because the idea of elections for community councils is new, and members of the public are unaware of the elections or dubious that they influence anything.
“Haredim, as a general rule, can organize much better and bring twice as many voters,” Barkat said during a press conference on Monday.
“Some neighborhoods asked us to preserve the ratios of the neighborhood’s residents [in the local councils] to ensure there is representation from every group.”
Clause 5.8 will be applied in the six community councils of Lev Ha’ir (Nahlaot, City Center, Musrara, Jewish Quarter), Beit Ross (Kiryat Moshe, Givat Shaul, Mordot Bayit Vegan and Givat Mordechai), Wadi Joz, A-Tur, Ramot and Romema. These six community councils represent approximately 280,000 residents, 170,000 of whom are voting age.s Barkat stressed that each neighborhood had uniquely built elections “suitable to its community.”
Though Romema is almost 100% haredi, local rabbis asked for the institution of Clause 5.8 to avoid one haredi sect from gaining control over the local council.
In Ramot, an area where the haredi and non-haredi populations frequently clash, there will be two local councils, one for the haredim and one for the national-religious and secular populations.
Beit Ross found a creative solution that calls for five secular/nationalreligious representatives and four haredi representatives, with the director changing after two years to allow both a haredi and non-haredi member to head the council.
Lev Ha’ir was divided into nine areas and will elect one representative from each area.
Anyone who wishes to vote in these neighborhoods under Clause 5.8 must submit proof that he or she has been a community activist or volunteer for at least a year. This includes involvement in Magen David Adom, soup kitchens, the Civil Guard and parents’ councils.
They must also gather 50 signatures from residents supporting their desire to vote, and submit this to their local elections council a few weeks before the November 20 election. Someone who wishes to become a candidate must follow the same procedure.
Clause 5.8 was originally designed to stop Islamist factions from taking over community councils in east Jerusalem, which is why both Arab neighborhoods involved in November 20 vote, Wadi Joz and A-Tur, will vote under the rule.
“This is a tool that’s not optimal democracy, it’s differentiated democracy, and it’s the best thing we could find,” said Yuli Ben-Lavy, the executive director of the Jerusalem District of the Israeli Association of Community Centers, who helps to organize voting. “We are using a tool. It’s not the most democratic.
But the local council isn’t a group with legal authority, it’s a community social group.”
“It’s totally out of control,” said City Council member Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim), who is part of the opposition in the municipality. “[In Lev Ha’ir] they’re very angry. They worked really hard on these elections.”
Azaria questioned the assumption that haredim would gain control of many seats in Lev Ha’ir and other areas if the new rule was not applied. She also slammed the city for selectively applying the clause to a few neighborhoods.
“No one discussed this with the residents, they did it with just the politicians,” she said.
Nahlaot community activist Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz said the clause was “ludicrous” and “manipulative.” He said that contrary to the city’s claims, only two of Lev Ha’ir’s nine districts are majority haredi, meaning the neighborhood would most likely elect a local council that is representative of its population if allowed to vote normally. During the most recent community council meeting, 50 Nahlaot residents stood up and shouted to express their displeasure with Clause 5.8.
“The local council is meant to be representative of Nahlaot, not representative of the active residents of Nahlaot,” Leibowitz said. “We were personally told by the mayor there would be elections in Nahlaot. Elections mean that everyone has the right to vote.”
But Jerusalem activist Yossi Saidov, who last year was elected to be the head of the Ganinim council, said the situation is not so clear-cut because Jerusalem’s neighborhoods are very complicated. While acknowledging he would be “extremely angry” if Clause 5.8 was applied in his neighborhood, he said there was some logic to it in more mixed and complex neighborhoods.
“At the end of the day, you’d see a local council that doesn’t represent you,” he said.
Ben-Lavy, of the Israeli Association of Community Centers, said the 2010 election in the Har Homa neighborhood proved the importance of Clause 5.8. Despite the fact that Har Homa is 40% secular, there are no secular elected members of the local council. Because the national-religious community is naturally more organized through its synagogue and communal life, it brought more people to the polls and the resulting local council is not representative of the population, he said.
On Monday, Barkat tried to draw the focus to his victory in bringing local elections to all 25 community councils in Jerusalem. The initiative began three years ago with five community councils. After the 14 communities vote on November 20, nearly every local community will have its own elected local council for the first time since then-mayor Teddy Kollek created the councils decades ago.
Barkat said the elected local councils serve as a bridge between city officials and residents, to ensure that municipal services are delivered efficiently and to alert city hall to problems.
“We in Safra Square [city hall] can’t know and understand the order of preferences in every neighborhood,” he said. Barkat added that elected councils also bring young people into positions of political leadership.