Jerusalem race gets close with low turnout worrying Barkat campaign

Tensions escalate in the capital as candidates urge residents to go out to vote; only 31% made it to the polls by 9pm.

Nir Barkat and Moshe Lion election day 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Nir Barkat and Moshe Lion election day 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Incumbent Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and rival Moshe Lion took to the streets in a final push to get out their message and influence the vote in what turned out to be a particularly tight race.
A poll conducted last week for The Jerusalem Post and Globes last week gave Barkat a six-point lead over Lion, but as the day wore on, the mayor’s campaign became increasingly nervous and called on the public several times to get out and vote.
Both contenders started their day at the Western Wall and then went to cast their votes – Lion in the German Colony, and Barkat in his neighborhood of Beit HaKerem.
Voter turnout in Jerusalem was reported as slightly lower than the rest of the country, with 32% of eligible voters making it to the voting booth by 8:30 p.m. as opposed to 42% nationwide. The Arab population of Jerusalem, some 35% of the capital, refrains from voting, thus skewing the voting pattern in the city when compared with other municipal districts.
The low turnout was expected to help Lion, given the generally high haredi motivation to vote in accordance with their rabbis’ instructions.
Noting the low voting figures, Barkat urged people to vote, saying “The battle is ongoing, nothing has been decided. Everyone has to go and vote in order to guarantee the future of Jerusalem.” His campaign pointed in particular to the low turnout in the non-haredi neighborhoods of Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Har Homa and Talpiot.
“Liberman and Deri are counting on the fact that you won’t vote,” added Barkat, in reference to Lion’s major political patrons. “This is the moment to take responsibility for our future and the future of Jerusalem. Everyone is obligated to go out, vote, and ensure that Jerusalem continues in the right direction.”
Tensions escalated around the elections for the municipal council as well, with the moderate haredi party Tov reporting several disturbances and incidents of violence directed toward its activists.
Tear gas was sprayed at Tov activists in the haredi neighborhood of Shmuel Hanavi in north Jerusalem. United Hatzala reported that one man was lightly injured but left the scene without further treatment.
Several other Tov desks around the city reported incidents in which their signs and pamphlets were destroyed and torn up.
One haredi man, speaking with The Jerusalem Post next to a Tov stand, said that party was committing a “desecration of God’s name” by running for election against the wishes of the senior haredi rabbinical leaders, but he condemned any violent action.
The current elections have witnessed the publication of numerous letters and statements by leading haredi rabbis calling on members of their community to vote for the haredi political parties.
Some of these public statements have included the promise of blessings for voting for the party in question, as well as warnings of spiritual consequences for failing to do so or for voting for alternative factions.
Israeli law explicitly prohibits these promises, and the Hiddush religious-equality lobbying group said it will collate all such statements after the election and demand that the attorney-general open investigations and prosecute, where necessary, those who had made such comments.
Punishment for breaking such laws could be up to five years’ imprisonment.
On Monday, a letter was published on the front page of the haredi daily Yated Ne’eman in the name of Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, the second-most senior haredi rabbi in the country.
He wrote that it was an “absolute obligation” to vote for United Torah Judaism, adding that anyone voting for the party “will be blessed with children, a good living and pride in his offspring.”
Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said that given the large number of infractions of the election laws on this issue, it seemed as if the law was worthless during the current campaign.
“It’s sad to see that the haredi parties do not trust the intelligence of their voters and need to disturb the dead from their resting place in order to try and influence voters,” said Regev.