New mayor boosts secular Jerusalem

By Ben Lynfield, November 13, 2008
Nir Barkat (right) is congratulated by a supporter after his victory

Nir Barkat (right) is congratulated by a supporter after his victory

Newly elected Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat has vowed to serve all sectors of the city's population after a campaign that brought to the fore deep divisions between the secular and the strictly-Orthodox community.

"The victory belongs to those on the right and those on the left, to religious and to secular, to those who wear knitted kippot, transparent kippot and black kippot, to new immigrants and to those in Jerusalem for generations. The victory belongs to Jews and to Arabs," Mr Barkat said in a victory speech followed by the singing of Hatikvah and the sounding of a shofar.

His clear win - he gained 50.77 per cent of the vote compared to 42.05 per cent for strictly-Orthodox MK Meir Porush - reverses five years of dominance of city hall by Charedim under mayor Uri Lupolianski. The millionaire former high-tech entrepreneur and paratrooper has pledged to create jobs and housing and reverse an exodus of young people.

Palestinians, who make up one third of Jerusalem's residents, largely boycotted the poll so as not to hand legitimacy to Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem.

Some secular voters said they had been galvanised by fear of Mr Porush. Mr Porush himself fuelled these concerns by telling a Yiddish-speaking audience during the campaign: "We are growing and multiplying at a fast pace and within ten years there will not be a secular candidate at all in any city, except maybe in an abandoned village."

In the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood, Mr Barkat's win was deemed "almost historic" by Daniel Mandler, spokesman of a local committee formed to protest the municipality's intention to establish a Charedi kindergarten in the area. The committee worked to turn out voters for Mr Barkat.

"Many people thought all was lost and that the only thing left to do was to turn out the lights and leave Jerusalem," Mr Mandler said. "Now they see that activism can change things."

Charedi politicians predicted they would be able to work together with Mr Barkat. "In a city that has so many ultra-Orthodox, he will understand he has to direct it with everyone's cooperation and I'm convinced that is what he will do," said Yehoshua Pollack, deputy mayor under Lupolianski.

Russian-born businessman Arkady Gaydamak came away with an overall tally of only 3.51 per cent.


Last updated: 4:37pm, November 13 2008