Gap closing in race for Jerusalem mayor

By Simon Griver, October 30, 2008

As the campaign for Jerusalem mayor approaches the November 11 election date, strictly Orthodox candidate Rabbi Meir Porush appears to be closing the gap on secular frontrunner Nir Barkat.

In a poll published by the Dahaf Institute, Rabbi Porush, a United Torah Judaism MK, won 36 per cent of the vote compared to 48 per cent for Mr Barkat's independent Jerusalem Will Succeed party.

Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkady Gaydamak polled 6 per cent and Dan Biron of the Green Leaf party, which wants to legalise marijuana, failed to reach even 1 per cent.

Remarkably, Rabbi Porush, who was 20 per cent behind Mr Barkat earlier this month, is picking up left-wing support as Mr Barkat is seen to have moved further to the right to ensure victory. Mr Barkat, a former high-tech businessman who retired after his 2003 defeat to incumbent mayor Uri Lupolianski to devote himself full-time to the unpaid position of the leader of the opposition in the Jerusalem Council, recently concluded a deal with Avigdor Lieberman of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party. He shocked many supporters by saying: "Lieberman and I share the same world view, a strong Israel with a strong Jerusalem at its core."

The National Religious Party is yet to endorse a candidate. But most of the city's national religious residents, who form about 20 per cent of voters, are supporting Mr Barkat, who has pledged to accelerate construction in East Jerusalem.

However, Mr Gaydamak could yet prove to be a joker in the pack. He spent the first three weeks of his campaign in Russia, shoring up his crumbling business empire, and returned last weekend to make a belated bid for victory by courting the Arab vote. The city's Arab residents, who comprise about 30 per cent of the electorate, have in the past boycotted the municipal elections.

Mr Gaydamak can show some results. Hanna Siniora, the influential Palestinian journalist, wrote in the east Jerusalem daily Al Quds, urging the city's Palestinians to vote for Mr Gaydamak "to prevent the destruction of homes and confiscation of Palestinian property".

Last updated: 1:11pm, October 30 2008