Charedi vote clinches Jerusalem mayoralty for Moshe Lion — but a fresh secular voice emerges

The narrow victory over Ofer Berkovitch exposes Charedi divisions in the city

November 14, 2018 18:34

The second round runoff in Jerusalem’s mayoral election — the first in the city’s history — ended on Tuesday night with a close result, one candidate proclaiming victory and the other refusing to concede defeat quite yet.

Moshe Lion, the candidate supported by two Strictly Orthodox parties, won 51.5 per cent of the regular vote, a margin of 6,528 votes, over the secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch.

But on Wednesday afternoon 9,106 “double-envelope” votes — cast by soldiers, hospital patients and prisoners — had still not been counted, and Mr Berkovitch was still clinging to the fading hope that with these votes, and possible appeals over alleged voting and vote-counting irregularities, he could still close the gap.

Possible in theory, but highly improbable.

Mr Lion is now almost certainly Jerusalem’s next mayor, elected five years after his previous attempt failed to unseat Mayor Nir Barkat. For most Jerusalemites he remains a mystery.

He is an accountant from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim who arrived in town only five years ago as the chosen candidate of Arye Deri, leader of the Mizrahi party, Shas, and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

Not Charedi himself, the Modern Orthodox candidate was backed in the run-off election by Shas and the Lithuanian Charedi faction, Degel Ha’Torah.

Both parties ran campaigns based on the blessings of senior rabbis and mobilising all their supporters.

Coupled with low turnout in the non-Charedi neighbourhoods, this won him the race.

But while the Sephardim and the Lithuanians were celebrating their victory, all was not sweetness and light in the Charedi community.

The Chasidic rabbis had their own first round candidate for mayor and when the Lithuanians and Shas supported Mr Lion instead, a rift opened that led to the Chasidim being ordered to stay home in the second round.

Some even voted for the 35 year-old Mr Berkovitch. The split in the Charedi front will have wide-reaching implications for Israeli national politics and society.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, the tug-of-war between Charedim and Chilonim is largely over symbolic issues, such as a bar opening on Shabbat or the annual Pride Parade — which the courts make very difficult for a mayor to shut down.

This city’s real problems are housing and employment, and Mr Lion will have to deliver for his Charedi patrons.

That is unlikely to mean changes for the city’s secular and progressive residents, who live in their own neighbourhoods.

The new mayor will also need the goodwill of the city’s overwhelmingly secular business community.

Secular Jerusalemites may feel they’ve lost this election, but in Mr Berkovitch, now the leader of the largest party on the city council, they have found a fresh and articulate champion who will fight to keep at least part of the divided city open and pluralistic.

November 14, 2018 18:34

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive