Think About It: The municipal election in Jerusalem

Since Kollek left city hall in 1993, no secular, center-left candidate has had any chance of being elected as mayor in Jerusalem (when he won, Olmert was a Likudnik).

THE OLD CITY of Jerusalem – quartered and whole (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE OLD CITY of Jerusalem – quartered and whole
Ever since Teddy Kollek lost to Ehud Olmert in the election for mayor in Jerusalem in 1993, I have never voted in these municipal elections for someone I agreed with ideologically.
In my choices I focused on support of a candidate who was most likely, in my eyes, to do the least long-term political damage to the very sensitive binational reality of the city, which was never really united after 1967; least likely to become involved in municipal corruption; and most likely to run the city satisfactorily – especially in those spheres that affected me and my family directly, namely education, sanitation and a reasonable secular public domain.
Since Kollek left city hall in 1993, no secular, center-left candidate has had any chance of being elected as mayor in Jerusalem (when he won, Olmert was a Likudnik). There are several reasons for this.
The first is that the percentage of secular, center-left Jews in Jerusalem has declined significantly in recent decades, because the natural growth rate of this population is much lower than other population groups in the city, and because of a net departure of seculars from the city among youngsters after military service, young families, and old-age pensioners who had made careers in the government, the judiciary, the Hebrew University and the Hadassah and Shaare Zedek medical centers.
The second is the fact that an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem (close to 40% of the city’s population) refuses to vote in the municipal elections due to its rejection of the annexation of east Jerusalem and a large number of Palestinian villages and neighborhoods that were never part of the city, but which Israel decided to annex in 1967 for strategic reasons. This means that of the population that does vote, an overwhelming majority is made up of ultra-Orthodox, National Religious and traditional Mizrahim, who are all inclined to prefer the political Right to the political Center-Left.
Some of my center-left and extreme-left friends in Jerusalem still insist on voting for a center-left or extreme-left secular candidate as a matter of principle, even though no such candidate has the slightest chance of being elected.
True, experts predict that in the upcoming election, the non-right-wing secular candidate with the best chances of reaching the second round (a candidate must get at least 40% of the votes in order to be elected in the first round) is Ofer Berkowitz of the Hitorerut list, but no matter who the other candidate will be opposite him, Berkowitz, aged 35, is unlikely to win in the second round. The other two secular candidates are MKs Nachman Shai (Labor Party) and Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), but both are likely to remove their candidacy before the election takes place in October.
OF THE candidates with a chance of reaching the second round and actually winning, I prefer Likud Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister (a mouthful of a job description) Ze’ev Elkin, who after great efforts managed to get Netanyahu’s somewhat frigid endorsement.
I prefer him to Moshe Leon, who has the support of Arye Deri from Shas and Avigdor Liberman from Yisrael Beytenu, and Yossi Deitch, who has the support of Agudat Yisrael. Why Elkin? Certainly not because of his ideology.
However, from personal experience I can say that Elkin is both a gentleman and a gentle man. As coalition chairman in the 18th and 19th Knessets, he was almost invariably fair toward the opposition, and his style of running things was usually gentlemanly.
In recent years whenever Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Elkin – who was born in the USSR and is fluent in Russian – was always there by his side, listening and helping out in the dialogue when necessary; so he has firsthand experience in how things happen in the international arena.
Though Elkin is religious, I feel sure that he will ensure that places of secular entertainment and leisure will not be shut down en mass on Saturdays, and that even though he has said that he yearns for the construction of the Third Temple, he will not do anything to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, and will do everything in his power to prevent unwarranted provocations on either side.
What I am not optimistic about is that he will modify his position against granting the non-Orthodox streams in Judaism separate praying arrangements at the Western Wall. In the past he strongly opposed the arrangement that Netanyahu had supported. However, if a viable arrangement is finally worked out, it is the government that will be responsible, and as mayor of Jerusalem Elkin will not be able to defy such a decision.
How effective Elkin will be in the provision of services to the inhabitants of Jerusalem I really don’t know. As environmental protection minister, Elkin’s record isn’t perfect, but perhaps he will be more successful in keeping Jerusalem clean – or at least cleaner than it is today.
Elkin is unlikely to improve the services granted to the Palestinian inhabitants of the city, and we know that he is totally against reducing the size of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem by excluding some of the Palestinian villages turned neighborhoods that were added to Jerusalem back in 1967, and which are hardly granted any services at all by the municipality (mostly neighborhoods that are walled out of the rest of the city). That does not bode well for the future, but so far no mayor in the “united” Jerusalem has provided satisfactory services to the city’s Palestinian inhabitants.
However, there is one thing that I feel certain about, and that is that Elkin will not get involved in municipal corruption. Irrespective of my ideological differences with him, I believe Elkin to be a “Mr. Clean.”
Corruption is a major problem in Israeli local politics, even though the majority of municipal, local and regional authorities in Israel are not plagued by it. The most worrying aspect of the problem is that many of the voters don’t seem too concerned about the phenomenon, and are willing to continue to vote for candidates who are under criminal investigation.
This phenomenon first came to light in the late 1970s, when MK Shmuel Rechtman (Gahal), who was also mayor of Rehovot (until 1996 MKs could also serve as mayors and heads of local councils), was convicted of bribery and sentenced to imprisonment. Opinion polls at the time showed that if, after completing his prison sentence, he would have run again for election in Rehovot, he would have won.
Under these circumstances a candidate who has never been suspected of corruption or even conflict of interests, and is highly unlikely to be involved in corruption or conflict of interests in future, is certainly a bonus.
So, for the time being, Elkin can count me as a supporter for his candidature for mayor, though I shall be voting for one of the secular lists for the municipal council. I certainly want someone at city hall to watch out for my secular interests, and if one or more of the secular lists will join Elkin’s municipal coalition after he is elected, so much the better.